Does (Jürgen Habermas’) Reason Know What It Is Missing?

New York Times Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stanley FishStanley Fish on education, law and society.

The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has long been recognized as the most persistent and influential defender of an Enlightenment rationality that has been attacked both by postmodernism, which derides formal reason’s claims of internal coherence and neutrality, and by various fundamentalisms, which subordinate reason to religious imperatives that sweep everything before them, often not stopping at violence.

In his earlier work, Habermas believed, as many did, that the ambition of religion to provide a foundation of social cohesion and normative guidance could now, in the Modern Age, be fulfilled by the full development of human rational capacities harnessed to a “discourse ethics” that admitted into the conversation only propositions vying for the status of “better reasons,” with “better” being determined by a free and open process rather than by presupposed ideological or religious commitments: “…the authority of the holy,” he once declared, “is gradually replaced by the authority of an achieved consensus.”

In recent years, however, Habermas’s stance toward religion has changed. First, he now believes that religion is not going away and that it will continue to play a large and indispensable part in many societies and social movements. And second, he believes that in a post-secular age — an age that recognizes the inability of the secular to go it alone — some form of interaction with religion is necessary: “Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”
The question of course is what does Habermas mean by “introduce”? How exactly is the cooperation between secular reason and faith to be managed? Habermas attempted to answer that question in the course of a dialogue with four Jesuit academics who met with him in Munich in 2007. The proceedings have now been published in Ciaran Cronin’s English translation (they appeared in German in 2008) under the title “An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age.”

 

Habermas begins his initial contribution to the conversation by recalling the funeral of a friend who in life “rejected any profession of faith,” and yet indicated before his death that he wanted his memorial service to take place at St. Peter’s Church in Zurich. Habermas decides that his friend “had sensed the awkwardness of non-religious burial practices and, by his choice of place, publicly declared that the enlightened modern age has failed to find a suitable replacement for a religious way of coping with the final rite de passage.” The point can be sharpened: in the context of full-bodied secularism, there would seem to be nothing to pass on to, and therefore no reason for anything like a funeral.

To be sure, one could regard funerals for faith-less persons as a vestige of values no longer vital or as a concession to the feelings and desires of family members, but Habermas chooses to take it seriously “as a paradoxical event which tells us something about secular reason.” What it tells us, he goes on to say, is that secular reason is missing something and without it threatens to “spin out of control.”

What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is “unenlightened about itself” in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments. “Postmetaphysical thinking,” Habermas contends, “cannot cope on its own with the defeatism concerning reason which we encounter today both in the postmodern radicalization of the ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’ and in the naturalism founded on a naïve faith in science.”

Postmodernism announces (loudly and often) that a supposedly neutral, objective rationality is always a construct informed by interests it neither acknowledges nor knows nor can know. Meanwhile science goes its merry way endlessly inventing and proliferating technological marvels without having the slightest idea of why. The “naive faith” Habermas criticizes is not a faith in what science can do — it can do anything — but a faith in science’s ability to provide reasons, aside from the reason of its own keeping on going, for doing it and for declining to do it in a particular direction because to do so would be wrong.

The counterpart of science in the political world is the modern Liberal state, which, Habermas reminds us, maintains “a neutrality . . . towards world views,” that is, toward comprehensive visions (like religious visions) of what life means, where it is going and what we should be doing to help it get there. The problem is that a political structure that welcomes all worldviews into the marketplace of ideas, but holds itself aloof from any and all of them, will have no basis for judging the outcomes its procedures yield. Worldviews bring with them substantive long-term goals that serve as a check against local desires. Worldviews furnish those who live within them with reasons that are more than merely prudential or strategic for acting in one way rather than another.

The Liberal state, resting on a base of procedural rationality, delivers no such goals or reasons and thus suffers, Habermas says, from a “motivational weakness”; it cannot inspire its citizens to virtuous (as opposed to self-interested) acts because it has lost “its grip on the images, preserved by religion, of the moral whole” and is unable to formulate “collectively binding ideals.”

The liberal citizen is taught that he is the possessor of rights and that the state exists to protect those rights, chief among which is his right to choose. The content of what he chooses — the direction in which he points his life — is a matter of indifference to the state which guarantees his right to go there just as it guarantees the corresponding rights of his neighbors (“different strokes for different folks”). Enlightenment rational morality, Habermas concludes, “is aimed at the insight of individuals, and does not foster any impulse toward solidarity, that is, toward morally guided collective action.”

The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another. In the face of these injustices, a reason “decoupled from worldviews” does not, Habermas laments, have “sufficient strength to awaken, and to keep awake, in the minds of secular subjects, an awareness of the violations of solidarity throughout the world, an awareness of what is missing, of what cries out to heaven.”

So what will supply the strength that is missing? The answer is more than implied by the reference to heaven. Religion will supply it. But Habermas does not want to embrace religion wholesale for he does not want to give up the “cognitive achievements of modernity” — which include tolerance, equality, individual freedom, freedom of thought, cosmopolitanism and scientific advancement — and risk surrendering to the fundamentalisms that, he says, willfully “cut themselves off” from everything that is good about the Enlightenment project. And so he proposes something less than a merger and more like an agreement between trading partners: “…the religious side must accept the authority of ‘natural’ reason as the fallible results of the institutionalized sciences and the basic principles of universalistic egalitarianism in law and morality. Conversely, secular reason may not set itself up as the judge concerning truths of faith, even though in the end it can accept as reasonable only what it can translate into its own, in principle universally accessible, discourses.”

As Norbert Brieskorn, one of Habermas’s interlocutors, points out, in Habermas’s bargain “reason addresses demands to the religious communities” but “there is no mention of demands from the opposite direction.” Religion must give up the spheres of law, government, morality and knowledge; reason is asked only to be nice and not dismiss religion as irrational, retrograde and irrelevant. The “truths of faith” can be heard but only those portions of them that have secular counterparts can be admitted into the realm of public discourse. (It seems like a case of “separate but not equal.”) Religion gets to be respected; reason gets to borrow the motivational resources it lacks on its own, resources it can then use to put a brake on its out-of-control spinning.

The result, as Michael Reder, another of Habermas’s interlocutors, observes, is a religion that has been “instrumentalized,” made into something useful for a secular reason that still has no use for its teleological and eschatological underpinnings. Religions, explains Reder, are brought in only “to help to prevent or overcome social disruptions.” Once they have performed this service they go back in their box and don’t trouble us with uncomfortable cosmic demands. At best (and at most), according to Habermas, “the encounter with theology,” like an encounter at a cocktail party, “can remind a self-forgetful secular reason of its origins” in the same “revolutions in worldviews” that gave us monotheism. (One God and one reason stem from the same historical source.)

But Habermas gives us no reason (if you will pardon the word) to believe that such a reminder would be heeded and lead to reason’s being furnished with the motivation-for-solidarity it lacks. Why would secular reason, asked only to acknowledge a genealogical kinship with a form of thought it still compartmentalizes and condescends to, pay serious attention to what that form of thought has to offer? By Habermas’s own account the two great worldviews still remain far apart. Religions resist becoming happy participants in a companionable pluralism and insist on the rightness, for everyone, of their doctrines. Liberal rationality is committed to pluralism and cannot affirm the absolute rightness of anything except its own (empty) proceduralism.

The borrowings and one-way concessions Habermas urges seem insufficient to effect a true and fruitful rapprochment. Nothing he proposes would remove the deficiency he acknowledges when he says that the “humanist self-confidence of a philosophical reason which thinks that it is capable of determining what is true and false” has been “shaken” by “the catastrophes of the twentieth century.” The edifice is not going to be propped up and made strong by something so weak as a reminder, and it is not clear at the end of a volume chock-full of rigorous and impassioned deliberations that secular reason can be saved. There is still something missing.

1.
Martin Yanosek
Michigan
April 12th, 2010
9:29 pm

The response of the nations of the world to earthquake victims is an example of “morally guided collective action.” World aid to the victims of natural disasters would seem to undercut Habermas’ position that modern enlightenment rationality lacks “motivation for solidarity.”

2.
Brighton Sage
Brighton Colorado
April 13th, 2010
7:36 am

When one starts from a false premise, should one be surprised by unsatisfactory results? “Jürgen Habermas has long been recognized as the most persistent and influential defender of an Enlightenment rationality.”

The defender of the flat earth notion was “persistent and influential ” among those who stridently screamed their talking points, drowning out a stream of evidence that could have disabused them of sophomoric and superficial positions. If that is the best that can be said of Habermas, and I suspect that it is, this article is only a smaller waste of space than the proceedings because of its SIZE.

Some of his pseudo-intellectual blather is just patently false.

3.
Leanne Hildebrand
Ohio
April 13th, 2010
7:36 am

Sweeping generalizations and presumption abound ! Rationality offers no goals or reasons – who says? I certainly have goals and reasons for acting responsibly that I have come to rationally. Having to use religion to manufacture, or impose, exterior goals is what is irresponsible – it all depends on which religion you’re chosing at the moment. Reason and philosophy encompass all that religion has ever offered, except for the fear, with none of the limiting dogma. I think I’ll donate my body to science and hope my friends drink a Scotch in my memory.

4.
David Malek
Brooklyn NY
April 13th, 2010
7:37 am

Perhaps the lack of solidarity is a function of an Anglo-German context? Would a philosopher in France, where “Fraternity” is one of the founding slogans of the Republic, and where the role of religion has been greatly diminished, draw the same conclusions? Possibly the masses will always require religion, but for State actors, philosophers, scientists, and thinking subjects in general, backtracking, even in a handy compromise, should be out of the question. Although the twentieth century illustrates our darkest tendencies, apologizing for religious anachronism, as Professor Fish constantly does, is not the way forward.

5.
randommuser
Boston, MA
April 13th, 2010
7:38 am

I also disagree with Habermas’s assumption that secular worldviews cannot provide for motivations and goals. Yes, from a secular point of view the burial process is a little pointless, but it still has the purpose of providing a memorial for those left behind, which is of emotional value. On goals in general, the author pointed out that individual wants can provide for a large part of the motivation, and one arguably does not need to appeal to religion to explain why we want freedom for ourselves, etc. Motivations to benefit others can come from two sources: a happy and safe community is itself valuable to individuals in it, and human naturally have empathy for others. As to motivation for doing science: much of the scientific work is motivated by exactly the goals stated above. I can’t see why the existence of a God gives us a greater desire to build sturdy bridges or finding a cure for cancer. On the other hand, science is also a quest for truth, which, to me at least, is valuable in itself.

The author wrote “The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another”. He is probably referring to wars and other conflicts that have been going on in this world. I want to remind him that wars were even more frequent in the past, when religion guides most nation’s thinking. In fact many of those wars are fought partly because of religion. It doesn’t seem religion has prevented people from inflicting massive injustices on others in the past, so why do we need to appeal to it now?

6.
M D Padmanabhan
Sinagpore
April 13th, 2010
7:39 am

The “call” of altruism does not reach all those who can help the poor of this world.
While shocks such as earthquakes (fortunately) kindle the right spirit, even well endowed nations after very delibrate rationalizations in world forums do not act on agreed actions to fund alleviation of global poverty.
Religious missionaries in the past did help but was that truly selfless?

Switching to an entirely different human pursuit , excellence in sports espoused by the Olympic spirit merits attention in a manner Habermas’ thoughts were triggered by his friend’s funeral. Rational thinking and logic go into training every world class athlete but it is the “chosen one” who carries the day.
Think about it…in the 100 m dash Usain Bolt has no time to invoke either cold logic or pray all along the way.
Human spirit and similarly creativity is not fully understood yet…maybe the next modernism will.

7.
caveat emptor
Miami
April 13th, 2010
7:39 am

If only postmodernists could be transported to the Dark Ages where they wouldn’t be burdened by thought experiments on the futility of reason.

8.
hb34
Providence, RI
April 13th, 2010
7:39 am

Can’t we just admit that “something” will always be “missing”? Why aim for an absolute and total reconciliation between secularism and religion when the former has developed in response to the tyranny of the latter over the millennia? What’s missing in both is true compassion with members of the human race without regard for or reference to any overweening comprehensive view. Surely we can agree that it is possible (at this point in history, anyway) to be decently moral without necessarily being secular or religious.

9.
randommuser
Boston, MA
April 13th, 2010
7:39 am

I want to add that I also do not think discussions such as given in the article should affect whether we believe in religion. To me there is one and only one reason for believing in Christianity: that you believe God really exists and Jesus Christ is really the son of God (similar statements apply to other religions). When you think about it this is almost tautological, but it is surprising how often this is ignored. If you accept this statement, then whether believing in religion makes you a better person or whether instituting religion on a society makes it better should not be of primary consideration. To believe in religion for these purposes without actually being confident that God exists is, to put it bluntly, deceiving yourself.

10.

Karl Young
San Francisco, CA
April 13th, 2010
7:40 am

Great piece and I agree with Professor Fish’s conclusion that the moderation of a naive and complete faith in “rationality” (still not sure I totally understand what that is) requires more than Habemas’ call for the occasional borrowing of moral authority from religion (at least in the way his argument has been paraphrased by Professor Fish), i.e. it doesn’t seem like Habermas as delivered us from the apparent conflict between the secular and religious worlds. But I’m not sure that in considering the argument, that all religions should be necessarily considered equal regarding the task Habermas asks of them. I.e. re. Fish’s comment, “Religions resist becoming happy participants in a companionable pluralism and insist on the rightness, for everyone, of their doctrines.” I think that’s certainly true of current practice for most monotheistic religions but less so for some other religions. For example, though throughout history Buddhists have engaged in acts of religious intolerance like any other religion, I think that on the whole modern Buddhism is better suited to existing in a pluralistic society and therefore better suited to the sort of task Habermas seems to be asking of religion (though I’m sure many would consider it wholly inadequate regarding other criteria that they feel is important).

11.
John McCumber
Los Angeles CA
April 13th, 2010
7:40 am

Habermas’ own view of reason, based on Kant, is indeed too empty and formalistic to provide either self-knowledge or a basis for “morally guided collective action.” But there are other, more productive views out there, based on Hegel and Heidegger, which can supply what is missing in Habermas as Fish wishes, without appealing to religion or ending in sectarianism.

12.
NKB
Albany, NY
April 13th, 2010
7:41 am

“Meanwhile science goes its merry way endlessly inventing and proliferating technological marvels without having the slightest idea of why.” Dr. Fish seems to conflate science with technology apparently in order to minimize its importance. The scientific pursuit of an understanding of how the human brain functions might in fact be the most plausible route to explaining the need for religion. Till then Dr. Fish is welcome to use or castigate the by-product of science (technology) and keep writing these columns to reinforce his own beliefs.

13.
Chris Bartley
New Haven, CT
April 13th, 2010
7:41 am

I’m not so sure Martin. It would seem the recent outpouring of global giving was borne out of a collective sense of our vulnerability. A vulnerability that realizes that despite our achievements and technologies there are events that we cannot predict, prevent or control. It is that same primeval awareness of vulnerability that likely gave rise to religion. Perhaps our “morally guided collective action” was a function of as religion in it’s most atavistic, distilled sense.

14.
Marie Burns
Fort Myers, Florida
April 13th, 2010
7:41 am

Habermas can speak for himself but he cannot speak for me. Both the secular & the religious are human-made, & any reasoning person can see the potential of the first & the fantasy of the second. I don’t doubt humans have some form of “religion gene,” but it is better utilized in seeking to improve the lot of society through the expansion of human rights than it is to devolve into some delusion of a perfect afterlife. We all have a desire to reach “something beyond,” but that something ought to be theoretically — if not actually — achievable.

When the ancient Jews spoke of the “kingdom of god” or the “kingdom of heaven,” they did not envision some other-worldly place with souls floating around in the clouds & getting together with that beloved grandma. Rather the kingdom of god was to be an earthly kingdom to which the dead would return. (Okay, it also involved Jews vanquishing their enemies who would become their slaves.) The gnostics had a better idea: they thought the ultimate spirituality or “knowledge” was within each person, although not many people were capable of achieving it.

In any event, the modern concept of heaven is nonsense, and the sooner people get over it, the better. Having a swell funeral in a church or cathedral isn’t particularly ridiculous, but the Metropolitan Museum, the Capitol Rotunda & the beach are just as good. I find Habermas’ retrogression to be pathetically Medieval. No good comes from superstition. But a lot of evil does.

15.
Clara
NY
April 13th, 2010
7:41 am

That people turn in their later years to religion is nothing new. It is like the joke of someone asking Shaw whether he believes a horseshoe on his door brings him luck, Shaw answers that it can’t hurt. When people feel the next world coming closer it seems wise to hedge your bets and preach some religion. That’s what makes Socrates so impressive. Till the last minute he held on to reason. A continuation of your arguments of why does religion still exists in this age of reason: http://www.pandalous.com…

16.
Paul G
Mountain View
April 13th, 2010
7:42 am

Mr Fish’s discussion is thoughtful as always, but I cannot help but feel it suffers from the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle. It suggests there are only two alternatives: traditional religion and some bleak form of atheism. This is hardly the case. It’s quite possible — indeed, historical evidence suggests — that the concept of ‘religion’ will continue to evolve, from animism, through polytheism and monotheism, to some new form of faith that people of the current era might not even recognize as religion. What form this faith may take I cannot begin to imagine, but I assume it will incorporate science, the principles of democracy, and our growing understanding of humanity’s place in the universe in ways that traditional monotheism, based as it is on the concept of some all-powerful supernatural dictator, cannot.

17.
Bob M
Vancouver
April 13th, 2010
7:43 am

Surely the inadequacy of our construct of the individual human subject — the construct that entitles the ego but impedes a more widespread ethic of solidarity — derives from the inadequacy of the singular conception of God, especially the God of the Abrahamic faiths. Why, when we seek for an image to represent the wholeness and integrity of the universe, do we settle for the foul-tempered, inadequate patriarch Yahweh (wonderfully sent up in Timothy Findlay’s novel Not Wanted on the Voyage)?

The Western religions do not provide answers to the mystery of existence, except to answer that, yes, existence is a mystery. And secular humanism has not failed to solve that mystery. Not yet. It still is looking for answers where some would find God — in the details. The emergence of the ecology movement, in which I include ecological science as well as the widespread popular culture that embraces an ecological ethic or sentiment, promises as surely as does religion to show us the dignity and interconnectedness of humanity, the biosphere and the universe.

18.
jimbo
seattle
April 13th, 2010
7:43 am

I regard mainstream religions that express compassion and concern for our entire ecosystem to be praiseworthy and likely to fulfill a social need. At the other extreme, I regard fundamentalist religions that demand unquestioning true believers to be profoundly evil. True believers will always consider the end to justify the means, because they are deluded to think that they are carrying out God’s will. All religion is a form of mythology, and must rely on faith rather than reason and evidence.

19.
A.S.
San Francisco
April 13th, 2010
7:44 am

After reading this article I want to weep at the blind imbecility and begging that religion be given its due because reason, in it’s cold neutrality, does not provide meaning. In effect, science and technology, although able to demonstrate the “truth” of the natural relationships it can discern, fails us because it is no more than an endless permutation of toys. It gets to the heart of nothing.

This assertion requires a number of responses. First, under the guidance of the religious imperative bloodlettings without number have been aided and abetted even if the original warring impulse was territorial or resource conflict or fear of the other or all of the above. In almost all of those situations, religion or ideology has given the perpetrators the divine imprimatur to rape, burn and murder. Right there, oh great philosopher, you have a significant deflector of the benefit of faith. Even if faith were sustaining, the outbreaks of faith that have inspired mayhem more than makes up for the good. And when different societies profess different enabling faiths, bloodshed without end is the rule when conflict arises. And this is not far away in time history; this is Nazi, Wanders, Darfur, Armenian, Serbian, etc.: My religion sanctions your extermination, infidel.

Moving right along: If not for science and technology, wherefore global poverty, hunger disease. Since when did faith ameliorate bubonic plague, malaria, hookworm, HIV, pneumonia–this is indeed a list of mankind’s suffering–Rx: Faith. I don’t think so.

So war and pestilence don’t yield to religion. What about morality and ethical behavior. You think devotion to ethical precepts founded in religion is the motivational factor. Think again. So-called ethical behavior of many of the “devout” springs from fear of retribution or of sanctions. God is the Super Cop, always watching. Break the law and judgement is certain in the afterlife if not in this one when one deals with an omnipotent and omniscient deity. And yet, the prescription does not take hold universally. For crime and religion are twin descriptors of social organization. And when two antagonistic societies impact, religion permits all sorts of atrocities to be visited on the apostates.

Now let’s move on to the efficacy of faith in providing insight into the nature of existence. Let’s do a little math.

Some phenomenon X appears under condition y This is a general statement of some empirical relationship attested to by repeated experimentation.

Now let’s add in the deity

x + God = y + God, Since the addition of God is superfluous to the causal relationship (unless you want to append God to everything existing–the creation.

So whatever God may or may not be, it does not enter directly into transformative processes in the world as we know it.

Finally, the emotion and devotion of belief. The Buddhists, unlike other formulations of internal exploration, do not posit a system and protocol of faith. Rather, they profess techniques for self-examination. That is, all of mental activity and its source is open for observation, control and further examination. They claim that the reams that are open to this sort of practice are no less real or empirical than the more concrete phenomena we perceive through the external senses.

So if self examination, i.e., examination of the out of the organ by which we apprehend sensory phenomena and conceive relationships is an item of faith, it too is an expression based on demonstrable empirical if subtle data.

All the rest; all that claim the truth and brand other doctrines inferior are the detritus of an evolving thinking mammal and within social structures and agency of hierarchical power, social organization and security enforcement. No more.

20.
Bobbo
Astoria, NY
April 13th, 2010
7:44 am

Another Fish column calling for a return to the Dark Ages. Snore.

21.

Richard Hussong
Massachusetts
April 13th, 2010
7:44 am

Yes, of course secular reason is missing religion. Also, religion is missing secular reason. Everything is “missing” whatever it does not encompass, but that does not in itself constitute an argument for the inadequacy of either side, or even of a necessity of a rapprochement between the two. To a serious nonbeliever, the claims of revealed religion have the status of myth, or even of fairy tales: they may instruct us in some aspect of human nature past or present, but can hardly be expected to bind either our beliefs or our behavior. In any case, a religion simply has little or no emotional force to a nonbeliever in that religion.

It seems to me that Habermas here falls into a mistake very common among nonbelievers in Christendom: noting correctly that the Christian religion has been a great source of social solidarity and motivation toward good behavior in Christian and once-Christian countries, he presumes (or at least fears) that there is no other possible source of those goods. Of course goals cannot be supplied by reason alone, but a quick look around the world and back through history should be enough to show that religion is not the only source of laudable goals (or of the power to laud them, for that matter). There is a failure of imagination here, one that says religion is necessary because I can’t imagine an alternative. It’s reminiscent of arguments for “intelligent design”, which are equally bankrupt intellectually, and for precisely the same reason.

In any case, it is not possible to embrace “religion” as a solution to the weaknesses of secular reason, because it is not possible to embrace “religion” at all. One can only accept a particular religion, and it is far from clear that even that can be done as an act of will. Reason is no more likely to lead one to religious faith than religious faith is likely to lead one to reason. It is telling that Habermas’s interlocutors were all Jesuits – why no rabbis, lamas, Zen roshis, Vedantist gurus, etc.? Surely it is that Habermas grew up Protestant in a largely Christian country, and in his waning years imagines that Christianity is a natural or exemplary religion, because it was present in his childhood. It is true that the history of Europe since Rome turned Christian has been largely a history of Christianity, but a philosopher must take a larger view, and at least try to encompass the world. It doesn’t seem that either Habermas or Fish has managed that here.

22.
Tor Krogius
Northampton MA
April 13th, 2010
7:44 am

This is absurd.

23.
Cassius Corodes
Westfallen
April 13th, 2010
7:45 am

I commonly see in Stanley Fish’s writing an idea that religion brings ‘something’ that secularism etc. lacks or needs but this is never clarified in any meaningful way. If secularism is ‘missing something’ or ‘spinning out of control’ how exactly does religion fix this? What exactly does it bring, and by which method is it utilised. Be specific, clarify your ideas – don’t just rely on vague assertions.

24.
James Raymond
New York
April 13th, 2010
7:47 am

This discussion seems to presume a univocal definition of religion instead of recognizing that religions are comprised of a) metaphysical dogma; b) ethical precepts; and c) ceremony and tradition. Dogma, which is intended to unite, is also intrinsically divisive, separating “us” from “them.” It is also simultaneously beyond proof and refutation: the statement “There is no God” is neither more nor less logical or scientific than its opposite. For that reason, we are entitled to believe whatever we find credible, but not entitled to force our beliefs on others. We are entitled, however, to force ethical precepts (i.e., laws) on others, but only if they are justified by purely secular reasons (e.g., arguments from reciprocity or consequence). Religious ceremonies can be comforting, they can build community, they can provide esthetic pleasure. But their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Any discussion of religion is incomplete if it does not recognize these distinctions. What part of religion are we referring to when we can “religion can provide . . . (whatever we claim it can provide)”?

25.
Pete I.
Pound Ridge,NY
April 13th, 2010
7:47 am

In response to #1 above; you mean like when the world comes together to combat genocides, global warming, nuclear weapons proliferation, environmental degradation? Our “morally guided collective action” in general would appear to be very weak. Well, there’s always hope.

26.

Steve

NJ

April 13th, 2010

7:47 am

They are missing merely a core and unshakable foundation for their beliefs. Right and wrong for them is a matter of opinion which has only been declared to them by whatever other men have said they are. Usually at the point of a gun or the whims of the mob. A believer knows there is a source of truth and goodness out there beyond whatever anyone else tries to make them believe. A belief in God brings the dialogue of conscience between them and God, not them and the passing opinions of the world.

27.

Eric Margolis

Tempe, AZ

April 13th, 2010

7:47 am

Habermas decides that his friend “had sensed the awkwardness of non-religious burial practices and, by his choice of place, publicly declared that the enlightened modern age has failed to find a suitable replacement for a religious way of coping with the final rite de passage.” — please just part me out, if any are still working, and cremate the rest. What I care? I will not be there.

28.

Captain Ronnel

L. A., CA

April 13th, 2010

7:50 am

There he goes again.
Dr. Fish is evidently tireless in attempting to make religion relevant, but the fact is that no one, not one single person, needs a religion to know how to live an ethical life–which is the most important thing to know.
Information available for thousands of years, predating all religion and philosophy, teaches how to live an ethical life. It is the most crucial information available.

29.

Vedanta

New York, NY

April 13th, 2010

7:51 am

Thank you for this interesting article.
THE “SOMETHING MISSING” IS A PROBLEM UNIQUE TO WESTERN CIVILIZATION.
When the author uses the world “religion”, he is essentially limited to Abrahamic religions.

Eastern Religions, particularly Hinduism based on Vedanta philosophy, saw this paradox between faith and reason and resolved it more than 5000 years ago. The struggles of rationalism and religion that play out in the West are a symptom of the underdeveloped moral systems of Western religions and the consequent reaction by rational members of society.

The successful merger of morality and rationality is embodied in the concept of DHARMA. This is a sublime and subtle concept that cannot be adequately discussed on this blog. It acknowledges the “moral force” in the universe and unifies it with the “physical forces” to create a comprehensive monistic philosophy of Unity.

I urge those who have an open mind and the intellectual curiosity about these issues to sincerely learn about the philosophy of Hinduism called Vedanta. You will see true skepticism, rationalism, and spiritualism merged into a comprehensive philosophical system. No more endless separation of metaphysical, epistemological, moral, ethical, political, aesthetic, and religious philosophies.
Good Luck
OM

30.

Goh Lip

earth

April 13th, 2010

7:51 am

I would take it further that religions is the root of irrationality and immorality. To hear religious people justify, indeed extol, the obedience of abraham in killing his son, to glorify the genocides ordered by god, the incest and offer of rape by lot and many other repugnant examples, one could understand the Nuremberg defense, the invasions of distant lands as divinely willed, the treatment of nations as existential threats – think amelekites – , the notion of a plot of land being destined by god.

Furthermore what makes this problem so intractable is that arrogance is being disguised as humility, ignorance as enlightenment and evil as holiness.

The holocaust is indeed contemptible; what makes similar actions like this less repugnant now the shoe is on the other foot? That it is divinely mandated? Please, with a god like this, who needs satan?

Now, for those on the other side of the religious spectrum……sheesh…..

31.

tenzin

NY

April 13th, 2010

7:52 am

It seems clear that all our perceptions, all our insights, all our intuitions, all our experiences are tainted by our prejudices, our predilections, our hopes, our fears, our habitual patterns, our dogmas and our wishful thinking: Our “Truthiness” prevails, unencumbered by reality.

“Truthiness,” as defined by Stephen Colbert, is a reasonable, if slightly cartooned, representation of our conventionally perceived truth, the truth as we experience it, with all of the distortions inherent in the process of perception. It seems to me that if we were to acknowledge that our perceptions of the world were really just an idiosyncratic construct of the mind with all of its inherent bias, we would at least be recognizing that truth – recognizing that our perceptions are just our “truthiness” – which can only be casually related to any notion of reality. Then we might recognize the need to explore ways (in addition to scientific methodology relative to the material world) to go beyond all of our mechanisms of distortion to relate to the more *subjective* world as-it-is. Just the acknowledgment of the mechanisms of distortion, would go a long way to undermining the solidity of our belief that our perceptions are true – related to some ultimate fixed reality. We could, in a way similar to NASA’s corrections for the distorted Hubble Space Telescope mirror, get a more reasonable approximation of what we are observing and certainly get beyond the delusion that: “I know the truth!” We might even get beyond pretension and self-importance and attain some level of genuineness, gentleness or even compassion. Or something like that?????????????????????

32.

Gerrit Brand

Stellenbosch, South Africa

April 13th, 2010

7:52 am

Habermas’ demand that “…the religious side must accept the authority of ‘natural’ reason as the fallible results of the institutionalized sciences and the basic principles of universalistic egalitarianism in law and morality” raises the question: Why, or on what basis, should “the religious side … accept” it? Surely, it can only accept it on the basis of its own values and commitment, which are inextricably linked to its metaphysical beliefs. But that means that the religious commitments are logically primary and cannot therefore be restricted in its expression by “‘natural’ reason”. If, however, one says that “the religious side” should accept “‘natural’ reason” on the basis of the insights of “‘natural’ reason” itself, then why is religion needed at all? Afterall, it would then seem that “‘natural’ reason” can provide a basis for itself without the help of religion.

Linked to this “Catch 22” in Habermas’ position is his (in my view false) dichotomy between “truths of faith” and “in principle universally accesible discourses”. There is nothing about “truths of faith” that make them in principle inaccesible to anyone. I can, in principle, understand and critically consider what Muslims believe even if I’m not a Muslim, just as I can, in principle, understand and critically consider the belief in “secular reason” even though I don’t share that belief. Habermas still seems to hold that there are convictions that rest on pure reason and can do without assumptions, a property that presumably distinguishes such convictions from religious beliefs. But this kind of foundationalism is self-referencially incoherent.

In its place a rational discourse starting from “provisional self-evidence” (Gerhard Ebeling) is quite achievable. In such a rational discussion we start of by identifying what you and I respectively provisionally assume, and then start testing these assumptions as to there logical coherence and pragmatic adequacy. Such a discussion is “in principle universally accesible”. The difference from Habermas’ position is that there is no longer a special class of convictions free of any non-rational assumptions as their starting point. The “basic principles of universalistic egalitarianism in law and morality” rest on such assumptions just as religious convictions in general do.

Reason is not a source, but a tool – a useful tool, but misused and ineffective when used as a source.

33.

Jim

Minnesota

April 13th, 2010

7:52 am

Reason is certainly unable to provide the impulse toward “morally guided collective action.” on its own. But historical experience teaches that the morally guided collective action provided by religion has rarely been a drive toward universal justice and the well being of others.

34.

Steve Fankuchen

Oakland, CA

April 13th, 2010

7:52 am

It seems the question is begged in this column as to what constitutes religion. Is it a collection of beliefs, a grouping of rituals, and/or the holding to the existence of a transcendent being?

Asking questions appears to be a human evolutionary mechanism, guaranteeing a dissatisfaction, which propels us onward and outward. I’m inclined to the view that God is essentially the placeholder for those large questions humans ask to which, at any given time, they have no other answers. Zeus sufficed quite nicely to explain pre-electric bolts of lightning. Christianity placed us contentedly at the center of the universe, until Galileo came long. All religions (that I am familiar with) provide for methods to influence that over which we have little if any control, Whether through prayer, sacrifice, or approved behavior, people are provided with the belief they can control the uncontrollable. And, in fact, collective belief can provide some control, whether through advocacy or deterrence, whether Maoism, Christianity, or Nazism (to name just a few.)

Religion evolves as more rational, demonstrable answers are developed to big questions. Yet, things do not change as fast as the non-religious think. The differences are not that large from Iphegenia to the Aztecs to kamakazi pilots to suicide bombers.

35.

Neil D

Kalamazoo, MI

April 13th, 2010

7:52 am

There is a great tradition of religiously inspired art and music. I enjoy the ritual of liturgy much as I enjoy theater or sports. I gain moral insight from greek mytholghy, christianity, and modern science.

But do I believe that Jesus Christ is my personal savior and that I will live eternal life if I believe in him? No.

Religion may well prosper in spite of bin Laden and pedophile priests. So be it. Denial is an important coping mechanism. These discussions are largely irrelevant. Faith in religion or acceptance of science only really matters in the mind of an individual. Each of us makes decisions and takes actions based on our experience and our willingness to take personal risk. Religion is the result of our decisions and actions, not the other way around.

36.

Ehkzu

Palo Alto, California

April 13th, 2010

7:53 am

Fish’s entire (and rather prolix) argument rests on the unspoken assumption that there’s no such thing as human nature. We’re a blank slate, wandering purposely over the landscape until we fall over a cliff and expire meaninglessly–unless Religion writes Purpose on that blank slate.

Um, there is such a thing as human nature, however. And it give us purpose aplenty, built right into our DNA, there for the taking. Fish should spend more time observing people and less time wandering about in his philosophical cloud.

This is just one more example of the patronizing condescension of religious intellectuals towards those they define as “secular humanists”–a term crafted to describe the religion we lack instead of the life we have.

It all helps justify one wag’s description of what “PhD” means (at least in the liberal arts): “piled higher and deeper.”

Last Thursday I rode my bicycle–with great effort–up a steep hill for a total of 2,500 feet of climbing, despite being in my 60s. It was a crisp spring day here in California, with clouds in the sky and birds in the trees around me. I needed two hours and a few minutes to summit, and another hour to get back down safely. This evening, after showering, I cuddled with my spouse of 28 years and watched a particularly good episode of “House.”

As Camus described in “The Myth of Sisyphus” my afternoon’s labor was both meaningless and, existentially, entirely meaningful. Ditto snuggling with my spouse.

Get it?

http://www.blogzu.blogspot.com

37.

James Donohue

Lancaster, CA

April 13th, 2010

7:53 am

Empathy is a human trait that is not incompatable with either religion or secular humanism. After all, the three basic Christian virtues, for instance, are faith, hope and charity. Also, Social Justice ( a term with negative connotations for many on the right) is based on the belief that human life is sacred and worthy of respect. Social Justice is both a religeous and a secular concept. The secularist may not accept the sacred part, but natural rights and human dignity are within the secular worldview. Our concepts of justice are both religeous and secular within the framework of our secular society. The religeous, at least around the idea of justice, is not that easily dismissed. If religion is not going away, and it really isn’t in my view, there can and should be some common ground with secularists around the idea of justice.

38.

Mordecai

Oregon

April 13th, 2010

7:54 am

As a nonbeliever, I’ll concede that there’s something missing from modern secularism — that the project of modernity has marginalized and largely extinguished the more ephemeral aspects of human culture. Yet I’m always puzzled when people frame this as a battle between an old religion and an old continental philosophy. Frankly, as a young working scientist, I’m somewhat out of sympathy with both. I can’t help but feel that continental philosophy hopelessly confuses subtle human emotion with the somewhat clumsy constructs it uses to talk about them, and that the old religions are subtly but irreparably incompatible with a truly modern perspective.

(If you doubt my latter claim, may I ask how extensive your acquaintances are among the young? What proportion of those that you know are budding mathematicians, physicists, chemists, economists? Among my cohort, attitudes towards the old religions range from “silly, but whatever” to “malevolent forces that must be destroyed.” None I’ve spoken to candidly can take seriously the idea of a god. Our understandings of the world simply have no room for such a thing.)

The only solution I can see is for us to somehow recast what we’ve lost in a more modern vein; to find a new, coherent vision of our common human needs, a new set of rituals, a new set of habits of thought, a new vocabulary rich in meaning. Something that those of us most profoundly altered by modernity can still take seriously. Such a project would necessarily be less than universal — the need for such a thing is evidently not universally shared, and in any case we can’t expect to get everyone on board with such at once. Rather the emphasis needs to be on the emotional health of the people and communities therein. Someday I hope to attend a funeral that addresses itself meaningfully to the grief of the living — and not to something as baffling as a “passing on.”

39.

snowpants

USA

April 13th, 2010

7:54 am

With nothing to pass on to, there is no reason to have a funeral? Absurd.

40.

Straight Face

Ghost Parking, Idaho

April 13th, 2010

7:54 am

“There is still something missing.”

It’s called historical materialism. Look it up.

41.

Ladislav Nemec’

nemecll

April 13th, 2010

7:54 am

Here is a pragmatic point of view. It seems to be almost certain that most of us (with a few exceptions like myself, a genetic freak) posses some kind of religious gene. Rather than trying to eliminate it (the communists tried and have a bit of success but we do not want to follow their practices), we may just as wel use it to firm up our attitudes like ‘solidarity’ that, of course, makes perfect sense without religion but religion may make it more effective.

In other words, many people will do more objective good by feeling that they are doing ‘God’s work’. Why should non-believing freaks like myself and the millitant freaks lie Httchins and others protest?

We have evolved during past 100,000 years with abundance of ‘religious’ genes that, almost certainly, contributed to the fact that we are not (yet) extinct. Not that we are immune to extinction as most species have been during the several billions years of life on this panet. Proper application of religious genes (definitely not for inquisiton and jihad) may prolong presence of our species here.

Not ‘al power to it’ but selection of the good from the not so good. Fine with me.

Never mind complicated philosophical constructs Professor Fish understands and enjoyes. I don’t.

42.

KennyBoy

Denver, CO

April 13th, 2010

7:54 am

I’m not really religious but I have studied many religions throughout my education. For myself, it’s enough to understand that I should not act toward another person in a way I would not appreciate. It’s a choice, and while I may not always make the best choice I realize what I am doing. I worry though about people who make this tired argument of ‘but for god man would not know right from wrong and would naturally choose to do wrong’. I worry that if they ever lose their faith they would slit one’s throat for pocket change.

43.

Panem et Circanses

Jeonju, Korea

April 13th, 2010

7:55 am

Habermas can’t do it. Reason needs religion far less than religion needs buy-in from reason. But reason has religion on the run. Religion is a relic of pre-scientific times, and in the decades and centuries to come, we will know that – in 50 years or so, the percentage of Americans who believe in religion will approximate today’s percentage believing in creationism.

44.

Robert Kribs

Morristown, NJ

April 13th, 2010

7:55 am

This article reminds me of a wonderful B C comic strip by Johnny Hart:

John, the turtle, is walking along with “Honk if you love Jesus” on his shell.
Bird: Honk! Do you believe in God, John?
Turtle: Certainly! Only humans don’t believe in God. Humans got “reason.” I’m a turtle. Turtles are born without reason.
Bird: If you can’t reason, how can you believe in God?
Turtle:I got no reason not to.

QED!

45.

TG

Toronto

April 13th, 2010

7:55 am

If reason is missing something, it is 1) awareness of its own limits, i.e. humility; and 2) awareness if its consequences, i.e. empathy. Both of these deeply human values are easily supplied without recourse to religion.

46.

Bruce Crossan

Lebanon, OR

April 13th, 2010

7:55 am

Oh Dear,

The question, my dear Professor, is what question are you (or is Habermas) trying to answer? Are we discussing the summum bonum of life? Then which life do you mean; this one or the next one; next in a Christian context or Buddhist context? Any way you slice it Habermas is more of a Habermenos.

Habermas is not alone, in the philosophical world, when he waxes nostalgic about the , oops, The Enlightenment. He is also not alone in realizing that reason runs out of gas when it reaches for the heavens; Susan Neiman posits, in “Evil in Modern Thought”, that evil cannot adequately be explained without an appeal to the transcendent. She and I probably differ on the amount of numininity– if you know what I mean– that we would allow in our world philosophies, but her arguments are cogently put, even if she stops somewhat short of a full explanation.

There are also two points of logic, that I find sorely lacking, in what you have presented, of Habermas’ thought. Firstly, he sees the Enlightened Left, as the unifying cohesive part of human society. This places the Fundamentalist Right as the individualizing, atomizing, randomizers, of life. The problem is that the randomizers are so committed to their individualism that they form a totally cohesive monolithic entity, that in different guises, has threatened entire continents with their individualistic sameness. Heil Hitler. All this occurs, under the auspices of the urban unifiers, who cannot even agree on what to have for lunch– vegetarian? if we don’t order something vegan, I’m leaving!– at their local meetings. Something is wrong with this picture, but I don’t think it’s me.

The second logical quibble, that I have with Habermas, is that his whole philosophy is predicated on a totally dialectic interpretation, of life, the universe and everything (42). Since there is nothing, in life, that is both worthwhile and easy; I don’t see why or how the mysteries of life would unfurl themselves and yield insights, to a simplistic tool of analysis, like the dialectic. As the founder and director if the Institute for the Dialectic Integration Of Teleological Systematics, I think that I appreciate the value of the dialectic as a tool; however, with DIOTism, the dialectic is just the starting point of a full investigation of whatever problem one is exploring.

Life is much more like a spectrum of possibilities that spreads out wider and wider as it progresses. If Habermas is trying to find a cohesive path through rationality (good luck finding enough rational people to do that) it would seem that a bell curve would be more of a means to explore your goal. But then philosophy majors have traditionally not chosen their discipline because they like math. Oh well.

As for a cohesive rational world view that includes the transcendent; well, I think that I’ve got one but I haven’t thought up a funny acronym for it yet. I know, I know, you’re on pins and needles. bc

47.

david abraham

miami

April 13th, 2010

7:56 am

Though without doubt one of the greatest social theorists and philosophers of our time, Habermas has always needed to go “elsewhere” to find an ultimate support for his procedural rationalism. Whether the moral psychology of Lawrence Kohlberg, the sociology of Marx, the verities of law, or, now, the truths and power of religion, Habermas has always looked to some some transcendent source for the values we need. What does that tell us?

48.

Bob Bamberg

Sparta, NC

April 13th, 2010

7:56 am

If the response to earthquake victims could best be described as “rationally guided collective action” then I would agree. But I think people are “moved” to respond during such disasters and they are moved not by reasoning but by feelings and intuitions that have more to do with the roots of faith than rational discourse. Does modern enlightenment rationality provide a “motivation for solidarity?” Or are examples of “motivation for solidarity” expressions of a yearning for something beyond rational explanations?

49.

Bob LaVelle

New York City

April 13th, 2010

8:02 am

Quoth Habermas:

“Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”

I cannot discern within our “modern society” any essential contents of our religious traditions. I can discern religious opinions and impulses that differ wildly and play out with discord. Religion supplies us with Christian Soldiers and pacifists, with ravenous Prosperity Gospel petitioners and ascetics, with groveling supplicants and political power mongers, and so on. The highest moral impulses known to humanity are as easily found in the philosophical tradition of Confucius as they are in any of the various “holy books.”

Why is the human realm the “merely” human? This smacks of original sin. It implies that every natural impulse of the defective human heart is in need of correction. Compassion flows from the human heart as naturally as predation, and the behavior I see from the most fervently religious among us does not arise from the former.

We have no evidence that any realm exists other than the one we experience on a daily basis. We may enhance our experience through meditation or psilocybin or what have you, but to presume that there is a better “realm” out there or in here somewhere that is unavailable to reason or personal discipline is to embrace a belief in the supernatural. Please, Mr. Habermas, do not condescend. Believe what you will concerning “truths of faith,” but do not imply that other “mere” humans require a “grip on the images, preserved by religion, of the moral whole.” When I look at the efflux and images of the most religious among us today, I see a moral hole.

50.

Francesco Piccinelli

Florence, Italy

April 13th, 2010

8:02 am

@Martin Ok, but the problmen here is another. The missing point the post deals with is: are we just flesh&bones or are we something more? Beyond this, it is difficult to find a common denominator in the global effort towards the earthquake victims. Each individual who gave his/her money, went there to volunteer etc. etc. had his/her own motivation to do what he/she did. And, among the possible motivations, one is religion, I think

51.

Ben Lowsen

Cambridge, MA

April 13th, 2010

8:02 am

If Mr. Fish is saying that secular ethics lack the claim to authority of religious creeds, then I agree. I do not, however, believe this is particularly troublesome for secular ethics. This is because claims to ethical authority have little to do with ethics in practice. To explain: the experience of a lifetime provides each of us with a framework of ethical considerations. Some of these will derive from sources (like religion) which have their own claims to authority, while others will derive simply from our own observation without regard to their authoritativeness. Equipped with this ethical framework, we make ethical decisions every day. In other words, ethical authority stops at the church door: all ethics is secular. Authorities and non-authorities alike can and will judge individuals’ ethics in retrospect and thus continue our ethical discourse (even as Mr. Fish is doing, and decidedly without the benefit of religious authority), but at those critical moments of decision when ethics becomes action, the only authority is the individual.

On the other hand, much of world religion has little to do the rightness of a specific doctrine: it’s basis is more closely linked to custom. “Empty proceduralism” can indeed motivate and create solidarity. But Liberal states can create solidarity as well: patriotism and other ideologies stem specifically from such states. My experience, for example in Germany, has been that many citizens are united in community and national spirit.

52.

tornado alley

oklahoma city

April 13th, 2010

8:02 am

Stanley, Have you ever heard of organizing a long essay topic with headings or sub-headings to help guide the reader? Zzzzzzzzz.

53.

biomuse

california

April 13th, 2010

8:03 am

The international response to earthquake victims was hardly mounted in the absence of religion, though. Habermas isn’t saying that there’s no religion in 2010 (which would be silly), he’s saying that once it’s gone, there will be complications.

54.

B

Texas

April 13th, 2010

8:03 am

I have problems with people who insist that religion is required for a functioning individual, or a functioning society, and that it is the lack of religious faith which is the cause of bad things on an individual or societal scale.

The last time I checked, there is a long history of humans in religious societies who treated their fellow humans as equally poorly, if not moreso, than what is seen today.

Some people seem to suggest that no relgious values means no values at all. I’m pretty sure that helping others in need, defending one’s family and friends (and perhaps nation) from attackers, being a good steward of the planet, helping to ensure a better life for the next generation – people can (and do) have these values, without having a relgious reason behind them.

The thing that religion seems best at, imho, is comforting rituals. Without a religious tradition, one can have a funeral, but it would borrow on religious traditions even if did not acknowledge them. It would be hard to get the ritual aspects of a society in line, without religious traditions. But I suppose it could be done.

55.

Peter Miscall

Denver, CO

April 13th, 2010

8:03 am

I would recast one of the closing sentences to read: “the Christian self-confidence in theological beliefs which thinks that it is capable of determining what is true and false” has been “shaken” by “the wars and catastrophes of the last two millenniums.” Something may still be missing from secular reason but it’s not inquisitions, persecutions and endless wars to destroy heretics and infidels.

56.

David

Honolulu

April 13th, 2010

8:03 am

“We believe these truths to be self evident …” I am a non-theist mathematician with a highly developed sense of compassion. When a mathematician (or a writer of the Declaration of Independence) feels the need for a foundation upon which to develop an argument, he makes one up – and calls it an axiom. I think my personal moral and ethical values would be found acceptible by most modern religions and, I suppose, may have derived from the religion of my parents. I am content with declaring the “rightness” of ‘morally guided collective action’ to be self evident. I don’t feel the need to invoke religion as a moral authority. Martin Yanosec (1) is right. The huge number of people from around the world who responded to the recent tragedy in Haiti were not all religious, but they all knew what they were doing was right.

57.

dmg

Princeton, NJ

April 13th, 2010

8:03 am

By far the most offensive thing to me about religion is the smug assumption, illustrated nicely here, that people can’t possibly be moral whithout some supernatural psuedo-“explanation” of why they should be moral. This is a very demeaning comment on the human race, but fortunately it’s complete nonsense. If it were true, there could be no such thing as a moral aetheist, and I l know plenty of them. Many psychologists believe that humans have evolved an instinctive moral sense, and why shouldn’t we have?
It obviously improves our ability to live in groups and larger social units, and that ability confers a tremendous survival advantage. Religion does not produce morality, it produces moralizers whose self-appointed job is to enforce their own notions of morality on others, while so often failing to practice what they preach. While this has been all too true throughout human history, we really need look no further for confirmation than the apparently endless sequence of revealed child-molesting priests in the Catholic Church.

58.

Michael

Vancouver BC

April 13th, 2010

8:03 am

I agree with the previous writer. There are innumerable instances of secular morality. What about the reasonable aspects of the socialist desire for a government that cares for its citizens? What about Doctors without Borders? And there is nothing wrong with a godless funeral–ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We will learn the answer to the great mystery after we pass on, and waiting until then just keeps the excitement building.

59.

Jag775

Durango, Colorado

April 13th, 2010

8:04 am

The pursuit of right reason is not easy but can be every bit as fulfilling as gazing at the “mysteries” offered by religion. My quest began in Salt Lake City long ago. I lived among the Mormons who are willing to throw reason out the window in return for conformity–to belong to a community. I am not condemning that community. Indeed, their fantastic belief system is really not all that more far fetched than Christianity but it is not protected by the cloudy lenses of time. Mormonism, a truly home grown American religion can be and is readily investigated in the light of known facts and its basic tenets are shored up as necessary by ongoing “revelations” from God. Humankind continues to invent religions although I submit that although there will be waves of this activity from time to time, such activity is decline and will continue to decline further.

It was on to Catholic boys school and Catholic College and then to the University of Chicago where I found myself exposed for the first time to Judaism. All the while I pursued science and little by little, the mysteries examined by religion were substituted for by the mysteries examined by science.

I believe my search for meaning is a microcosm of what humanity is experiencing. As we expand our knowledge of the Universe we are introduced to wondrous mysteries which are succeeded by even more wondrous mysteries as we find more and more answers.

Dr. E. O. Wilson’s prolific writings examine his own quest as a scientist and he is in my mind the most important proponent of the Enlightenment alive today. In his seminal work “Consilience” Wilson contends that humanity should proceed ahead as if it can know everything including those things that are deemed unknowable in non scientific realms. In such a pursuit, humanity will find the wonder it needs.

Like Wilson, I have been to the frontier where our knowledge ends and the unknown begins and I don’t mean at a surface level. It was at the frontier for the first time that I was reminded at how much greater my universe had become than the one painted by the Priests in my youth. The complex intellectual treatment of a concept like the Trinity by the Jesuits I was exposed to became for me so arcane. I am not demeaning the religious search for meaning but the very strength of a system of belief where the the gospel or the holy scriptures trump all facts is very limited in what it can achieve. It is in fact a closed system–necessary to that stage of intellectual development for pre-scientific humanity in need of control of a seemingly uncontrollable world.

I suggest as humanity evolves intellectually and this is now a geometric progression, the enormous resources dedicated to religious examination will continue to shift to the pursuit of reason and science the foremost tool of reason. In that pursuit, wonders are being found and will be found that eventually will substitute for religion in fulfilling the human need for wonder. We are really just at the frontier and have just begun to enter the undiscovered country.

Religion has served our species well for the most part. From religion meaning was gleaned and this was evermore critical to an evolving, self aware, reasoning being faced with a seemingly unknowable and fearful universe.

Now however, as we are just beginning to understand that we are controlling our own evolution as a species, the “magisteria” of religion as Stephen Jay Gould calls will be less and less a credible road map for meaning to our lives. Indeed it will remain the refuge of those who are content not to delve too deeply into the pursuit of knowledge.

60.

Peter Robinson

Canberra, Australa

April 13th, 2010

8:04 am

Stanley Fish’s arguments are filled with intellectual bamboozelry – eg “What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is ‘unenlightened about itself’ in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments. “ What on earth is he saying? What is a ‘procedural entailment’? Does he understand his own prose?
I found one coherent thought early in his brief and it’s wrong. He writes of “the awkwardness of non-religious burial practices”. This extraordinary universal claim is false – non-religious funerals can be moving and cathartic – I’ve been to many. I cite the funeral of headmaster and legendary theatre director Ralph Wilson in Canberra, 1994.
Stanley Fish should endeavour to write plainly – and maybe he’d achieve something more than obfuscation.

61.

James Arthur

St. Louis, MO

April 13th, 2010

8:04 am

It seems to me that the arts, at their most serious and most inquiring, can perform some of the functions that Habermas assigns to religion, without intruding upon the pluralism of Liberal rationality.

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries,” and E.M. Forster’s “Howard’s End” are a few examples of works that question the means and ends of secular reason, right?

62.

Matt

London

April 13th, 2010

8:04 am

Once again Prof. Fish has managed to display a singular talent for saying very little in the most verbose manner possible.

“Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.” (Pythagoras)

This applies more so when an article’s subject is of such dubious merit.

63.

Carlos Turriago

Jyvaskyla, Finland

April 13th, 2010

8:04 am

What are the “truths of faith”? Precisely Faith is an attitude present in issues where truth is not ascertainable. God, the main tenet of most religions, is something about which nobody “knows” anything. Feelings about him on the other hand abound but the most that can be said about the issue, without lapsing into the ridiculous, is that Got exists only if he exists. It is often said axiomatically that Christianity gives meaning to life, whereas in reality it takes the meaning out of it. Life is not valued by Christianity in itself but only as some kind of ticket for a better state of being that is believed to exists beyond death. Must life have a meaning? Isn’t it enough that it be? Teleology exists only in people’s minds. The sense of purpose, i.e. what is supposed too give meaning to things, can only arbitrarily be attributed to nature. What is the purpose of a mountain, of a mockingbird, of a grain of sand? Human action has purposes, often arcane and very often totally unexplainable. The Holocaust and cruel persecution, both as practiced on religion and by it, are but two examples of very purposeful action defying comprehension. It seems to me that ascribing meaning to things makes things meaningless, in the sense of their being there not for themselves but for some purpose transcending that which they are. By the way, a funeral makes lots of sense, even in the case of non-believers.

64.

Wade Schuette

Michigan

April 13th, 2010

8:05 am

A basic principle of scientific cosmology is that “we are not special.” In other words, Earth is not at the center of the universe, man (or woman) is not the greatest creation of God (er … of nature), etc.

While the first premise, about Earth’s location, has achieved wide acceptance, the second premise has lagged behind, even in the most scientific of circles.

I perceive in the justifiable rational reflexive rejection of “religion” and of an infinite, omnipotent God a tad too much of convenient and unjustified rejection as well of a much more finite and not necessarily powerful or wise level of consciousness and life above that of individual human beings. This must be addressed and fixed if rationality is to achieve its potential.

The arguments against doing so strike me more as “we wouldn’t give those idiots an inch of pleasure or encouragement” than anything else. By basic scientific cosmology, the assumption must be that there ARE life forms “higher” (in any and every sense) than humans and humanity, and the burden of proof on anyone who wishes to assert, instead, that “Humans are the greatest accepted creation of … er… humans.”

This subject is timely, because for the first time there is a growing and incontrovertible evidence that humans are not the fragmented, discrete, separated pieces our rationality and medicine and justice systems have assumed, rising above the unmentionable and inconvenient “body” as well as the body of the unclean “others”, but that we are instead connected in powerful ways to each other’s moods, health, and mental models, among other things.

This would, by a purely rational science, call into question our definitions of “life” and “beings” and consider such entities as “corporations” or “cultures” as potentially living beings of their own, were it not for a huge but mostly invisible bias against acceptance of their being “higher” forms that we are embedded within. The resistance strikes me as irrational but similar to the resistance at Pasteur’s time to believing that our “body” had within it millions of “other organisms” that were not “us”. it challenges our implicit world view of being unitary, self-contained, self-sufficient, and “whole”.

Now we find instead, whether in social intelligence or behavior of bacteria, that group cohesive behavior is the norm, that human “decisions” and “actions” are almost entirely predictable based on the social context in which they are made, etc. We are way, WAY more akin to “slime mold” than billiard balls in that regard. Inconveniently akin. Emotionally frighteningly akin. Unacceptably akin.

Unacceptably to what? To the egoistic conceit that humans are the greatest life form that exists in this immediate location in space and time. That, even though, our cells are alive and happy (I presume) to find their life within and amid a much larger life form (namely US), that SURELY symmetry is broken here, at this apex of existence, and we are not, in turn, small parts of a much larger life form, such as Gaia, or a corporation, or a culture.

Yet, if you look in any biology textbook, a corporation or culture satisfies every condition ascribed to something that is “alive.”

This, to me is the frontier, the unspeakable horror that rational scientists must face, that, despite our best efforts, white males are not the supreme beings of the universe.

Forget carrying that principle forward additional scales in space and time, for now, and just let’s all focus on this stage. IS a corporation “alive” and “conscious”? IS a culture, or a, gasp, “religion” “alive” and “conscious”, in the same sense (but not necessarily the same way) that humans are conscious at a level above and beyond yet encompassing the lives of their constitutent cells. ?

Why is THAT not the core questions of the search for life in the universe? This is my challenge to Science, to explain why this is not more central to good scientific research.

Or is it pure ego, and envy, and anxiety that religions might, in fact, despite having the details wrong, have the big picture right?

65.

Mariano Patalinjug

Yonkers

April 13th, 2010

8:05 am

Yonkers, New York
13 April 2010

There is no way religion will go away on its own, let alone be forced to go away under pressure from the Enlightenment which comes with secular reason.

A case in point is Russia where Stalin tried to abolish Religion because he was convinced that it represented the most serious obstacle to his attaining the goals of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Stalin is gone. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is gone. But religion is back in Russia. It has made a vigorous comeback. And it is now as strong as it ever was before Stalin.

Why? What happened?

Feelings of insecurity that a completely materialistic conception of human life is at the root of religion’s persistence. Human beings, most of human beings anyway, cannot or will not accept the reality that it is all over after the physical body dies and is decomposed by the trillions of bacteria that it already contains from the instant it is “conceived” in the womb and helped along by the countless maggots that hasten its being reduced to cosmic dust.

Human beings find reassurance, solace and comfort in the thought, albeit illusionary or delusionary, that there is a life hereafter–which religion cleverly and insidiously postulates–in a place called “heaven” for those who live without “sin.”

Reason is thus powerless against this promise of faith or religion. Never mind that reason cannot or will not yield to faith or religion. One necessarily excludes the other, in the abstract. In the real world, however, both have to co-exist with each other.

Mariano Patalinjug

66.

Colin Wood

Glendale, CA

April 13th, 2010

8:05 am

Reason, get a grip. Remember when you were all proud and objective, bragging about saving the world? I know that last hundred-year bender was rough. I know there was lots of blood; but was that really your fault? Now you’re in a funk thinking, “Hey, maybe God.” Reason, dude, that’s a fantasy, remember? Are you going subjective or what? What happened to “What is truth?” Once you were all, “My way or the highway.” Didn’t matter what highway, you always made it sound to die for. You could make a man feel so bust-out bodacious. I swear, you could sell central heat to the devil. Seriously, Reason, amigo, if you’re feeling wobbly about religion maybe you need a good dose of what you do best: busting heads.

67.

lee walker

oakland

April 13th, 2010

8:05 am

If scientists can believe in anything as crazy/unproven as “dark matter”, nothing about religion should ring any bells.

68.

John Merryman

Sparks, Maryland

April 13th, 2010

8:05 am

Both are flawed.

Reason is a product of the left hemisphere of the brain which sees reality in terms of linear cause and effect distinctions, but is missing the right brained intuitive parallel process that manages to sense the connections. A good example is the description of time as a fourth dimension of space, because it is an attempt to formalize the narrative sequence. The reality is the opposite: Time is an effect of motion, not the basis for it. The earth doesn’t travel the fourth dimension from yesterday to tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth rotates. When we think of time as the narrative series, we are the point of reference moving against context, but when we think of it as the whole range of activities coalescing out of potentials and receding into the past, then we are integral to that larger reality.

Religion started as polytheism because gods were what we would call memes today. Larger concepts to which there was broad understanding, from the primacy of one’s group to terrestrial and celestial objects, social and civil activities, from sex to partying to war. Etcetc. As the appreciation grew of an underlaying matrix in which all these points of consideration existed, religion became pantheistic and eventually monotheistic. The logical flaw in this step from pantheism to monotheism is that unity and unit are not the same. One is connectivity and the other is a set. The insight became the institution. The problem with monotheism is that the universal state of the absolute is basis, not apex. So a spiritual absolute would be the raw essence of being from which we rise, not a moral and intellectual ideal from which we fell. We may be branches of the same tree, but the effect is that we all point in different directions. Good and bad are not a metaphysical dual between the forces of light and darkness, but the primordial biological binary code, the attraction of the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. We are just very complex expressions of this cumulative process, though we still view it on a linear scale. Which is to say that between black and white are all the colors of the spectrum, even though we tend to narrow it down to shades of grey. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken, yet there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. Life is a process of creation and consumption, as it bootstraps itself up out of the muck. Morals are like a language, a necessary code by which members of a group relate to one another and potentially different from other group’s codes.

In a meta-biological sense, I think humanity is life on this planet trying to grow a central nervous system. That would be a feedback loop to protect and manage the larger system, not an immature mind that thinks it is the center of all. Otherwise we are just top predators in a collapsing ecosystem.

69.

Dee

Chicago

April 13th, 2010

8:06 am

I understand what Martin is saying, but catastrophic events elicit short lived emotional responses, and lack the longevity necessary to build a consensus of an overarching moral mission statement. Haiti, for example, has been the poorest nation in the Americas for decades and there was no outpouring prior to the earthquake, even though 80% of its population lived below the poverty level.

The voices heard most often from religious communities tend to be focused on spreading the gospel of intolerance. They focus on homosexuality and reproductive rights and treat both as abominations. Their beliefs are more likely to be disseminated than those of church leaders who focus on communal acts because the media will always choose controversial positions over widespread ones. Clerical diatribes against gay marriage are rampant. When is the last time you saw a clergy person on a news show espousing the duty of believers to take care of the poor?

Academics have been cast as elitist snobs deserving of our distrust and disdain. Critical thinking skills are trumped by emails typed all in caps. Logic and reason consistently lose out to loud and oft repeated lies.

Political leaders on the right pander to their base by positing government as the enemy. They’ve been successful at getting their base to vote against their own self interest. Political leaders on the left do a woeful job of explaining how providing social services strengthens the country as a whole. They leave their base unenergized.

I’m not sure how we turn the rising tide of ignorance in the United States. It’s frightening how so many people feel entitled to so much and at the same time are outraged that they should share in the cost of the services they consume.

I’m hoping Habermas’ notion that more voices heard in the public sphere will make for a more democratic society. Perhaps we need to wait to see what impact the internet plays.

70.

Patrick

southeastern Wisconsin

April 13th, 2010

8:06 am

Religion has, and will continue, to “civilize” the world because the adherents of religion understand that something, that something being God, is pulling them towards a higher, yes, a higher, understanding of what total conscienceness is.

71.

Mike Redding

England

April 13th, 2010

8:06 am

and the Germans thought Hitler was leading morally guided collective action…and the Serbs thought Milošević was leading morally guided collective action.

72.

Klem

Westhampton

April 13th, 2010

8:06 am

**Postmodernism announces that a supposedly neutral, objective rationality is always a construct informed by interests it neither acknowledges nor knows nor can know. **

How can Postmodernism announce anything?

Postmodernism is not a person.

73.

Clemsy

Greenfield, NY

April 13th, 2010

8:06 am

Joseph Campbell had another idea that, seems to me, Habermas is missing. I also question the assumption that secular equals atheism. There are other models, if the word can be applied, to the idea of god.

“For even in the sphere of Waking Consciousness, the fixed and the set fast, there is nothing now that endures. The known myths cannot endure. The known God cannot endure. Whereas formerly, for generations, life so held to established norms that the lifetime of a deity could be reckoned in millenniums, today all norms are in flux, so that the individual is thrown, willy-nilly, back upon himself, into the inward sphere of his own becoming, his forest adventurous without way or path, to come through his own integrity in experience to his own intelligible Castle of the Grail—integrity and courage, in experience, in love, in loyalty, and in act. And to this end the guiding myths can no longer be of any ethnic norms. No sooner learned, these are outdated, out of place, washed away. There are today no horizons, no mythogenetic zones. Or rather, the mythogenetic zone is the individual heart. Individualism and spontaneous pluralism—the free association of men and women of like spirit, under protection of a secular, rational state with no pretensions to divinity—are in the modern world the only honest possibilities: each the creative center of authority for himself, in Cusanus’s circle without circumference whose center is everywhere, and where each is the focus of God’s gaze.” — Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

74.

wordbyte

Rotterdam, Netherlands

April 13th, 2010

8:06 am

Mr. Fish would make a perfect Jesuit! Perhaps this is what he is hankering for as he sifts through the sour musings of a no-doubt ageing, depressed philosopher named Habermas? The crimes of the twentieth century were not those of reason but of ideology. Isn’t ideology just another word word for religion without the superstitious trappings of a god? And, post-secular age? Is that like the End of History? How tiresome…!

75.

moran

va

April 13th, 2010

8:07 am

Dr. Prof. Fish: As usual, I find your column timely and provocative. I’m printing it out so that I can ponder it later in the day. At the moment I don’t have much of intellectual substance to contribute except the following, which is meaningful to me, tho your readers may feel otherwise.

Raised as a Catholic in a very devout family, I learned ethics from my parents primarily, then secondly from Catechism classes. Of course personal behavior was couched in terms of Sin. As I grew up and went to University, my most meaningful course was one on Ethics. Eventually I became an atheist and found that I derived my own code of right and wrong from the standard philosophers.

No too long ago, in conversation with my sister who is still a devout Catholic, she asked me how I could judge right from wrong without religion. I immediately answered “Philosophy.” Yet even today I wonder whether I’d have been receptive to the lessons of the philosophers had I not been raised as I was. This is my eternal conundrum.

And I often wonder about the “wild child” raised outside of civilization’s influence—is there an innate inclination to behave ethically? Certainly, we see in the animal kingdom evidence of family solidarity and the shunning of outliers. But how much of this is based on survival of the tribe, so to speak, rather than any sense of right and wrong?

Funny thing is, I still want my ashes to be interred beside those of my parents. But honestly, I think this is a sentimental choice, not having anything to do with the fact that they rest in a Catholic cemetery.

So here I am, just an ordinary thoughtful person , seeking, seeking, investigating other avenues to explore in this quest for answers.

76.

Harry Merryman

Rochester, NY

April 13th, 2010

8:07 am

“Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”

In quoting Habermas, Dr. Fish focuses on what is meant by “introduce.” I suggest that the key is “the essential contents.” The “solidarity” and moral guidance needed in the post-modern age can come from what Huxley calls the “perennial philosophy”–the recognition of a divine ground of being that inhabits all. This recognition is at the heart of all religious traditions, captured in the Gita as: “They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them.” It is also, interestingly, the conclusion of science. Ultimately, the “Big Bang” is a recognition that we all share a common origin and are infused with a common spark.

The trappings of religious traditions obscure this common bond. Only the guidance of the “essential contents” provide the power to save us from the excesses of our age.

77.

Bill

Maine

April 13th, 2010

8:07 am

All well and good, but what percentage of the population can read and understand this article, or even agree they ought to be able to (I’d say 99% of my rural high school and college students cannot)?

Many reject secular reason/ intellectualism on the basis of a perceived elitism, which hyper-vocabularized articles like this one perpetuate. Shouldn’t Mr. Fish be writing to a broader audience?

78.

Elliot

Fort Lee, NJ

April 13th, 2010

8:08 am

I see no compelling “reason” to restrict our consideration of the purported conflict between Enlightenment Rationalism and a transcendent social solidarity to the musings of the consistently opaque Habermas and his Jesuits interlocutors. The entire history of philosophy, beginning with Plato, may be seen as a dialogue that focuses attention on reason, its limitations, and right conduct, whether of individuals or society as a whole.

It may be useful, on this topic, to reconsider the works of two important philosophers: First, from the Enlightenment perspective, Spinoza, who in his Ethics presents a worldview that almost seamlessly integrates reason with a foundational argument for the necessity of God’s existence, which in turn is meant to liberate human belief and action; and second, and from the critique of the Enlightenment position, Alasdair MacIntyre, who in his After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? presents a communitarian position that depicts reason as a social endeavor that is necessarily based in transcendent concepts of human purpose beyond those that are instrumentalist as we pursue that which may be most meaningful in our lives, but without succumbing to the intolerance associated with institutionalized religious practices.

If, as Habermas claims, “religion is here to stay,” it has less to do with the limitations of reason and its product and far more to do with the limitations of who we are as human beings, caught as we are within imperfect, unjust societies in which some people exploit and oppress the vast majority of others. Under these conditions, religion, as Marx wrote, will continue to play the role of “the heart of a heartless world.” We, as rational agents, need to change the world as much as we can so that it is less cruelly exploitative. Whether religion can play more of a role in that transformation, rather than serve as a reactionary, anti-rational influence, remiains to be seen. But I see nothing in either Habermas’s or his commenters’ remarks, faithfully reported by Fish, as carrying the conversation forward constructively, alas.

79.

Neil D

Kalamazoo, MI

April 13th, 2010

8:08 am

Fish writes: “So what will supply the strength that is missing? The answer is more than implied by the reference to heaven. Religion will supply it.”

This makes it sound like “religion” is a single and specific thing that everyone agrees upon. There are several billion “religions” in the world. Just about one for each human being. It doesn’t make sense to me to say that generic “religion” supplies anything in that context.

80.

Anders L

Stockholm, Sweden

April 13th, 2010

8:08 am

Religion and science were once one and the same. Not until modern science started to discover the actual workings of the world and thus push the religious beliefs aside did the dichotomy between “science” and “religion” arise. Today, only fundamentalists insist that their religious scriptures describe the physical nature of the world. The next question is, of course, whether the religious scriptures that were written thousands of years ago actually describe the moral and ehtical nature of man today.

On the other hand, maybe “God” is a useful construct regardless of whether he/she/it exists or not. Mathematicians and engineers routinely use the square root of minus 1 in their calculations, even tough we are quite certain that it does not actually exist.

81.

CWE

Lansing, MI

April 13th, 2010

8:08 am

The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another. In the face of these injustices, a reason “decoupled from worldviews” does not, Habermas laments, have “sufficient strength to awaken, and to keep awake, in the minds of secular subjects, an awareness of the violations of solidarity throughout the world, an awareness of what is missing, of what cries out to heaven.”

So what will supply the strength that is missing? The answer is more than implied by the reference to heaven. Religion will supply it. But Habermas does not want to embrace religion wholesale for he does not want to give up the “cognitive achievements of modernity” — which include tolerance, equality, individual freedom, freedom of thought, cosmopolitanism and scientific advancement — and risk surrendering to the fundamentalisms that, he says, willfully “cut themselves off” from everything that is good about the Enlightenment project.

I look at paragraph above and think about the current sex abuse scandal in Catholic Church, Muslim extremist committing various acts of violence and Israel’s totally inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people all in the name of a “Free Jewish State” and Mr. Fish’s argument goes totally down the drain.

82.

Bayou Houma

Boston

April 13th, 2010

8:09 am

The process of reason alone to find the good life for us leads to an image of one hand clapping.The other hand seems to be an arbitrary blind faith, a genesis. And nature, as any naturalist (hunter, miner, farmer, woodsman, biologist, . scientist, etc. learns) has learned, nature offers us only rational processes which we ignore at our peril. When we adopt rationality to order our society in legal and political regimes, our agreements on the terms of our understanding one another begin in a language that is the product of someone’s imagination, a poet. Faith begins in an act of the imagination based in fatih, and any understanding of a language is always based in faith that we understand ourselves and what we express. Others who claim to understand us have the same faith. Reason starts in the same blind faith, and religious inspiration develops into a world view only through the process of rationality.

83.

Russell

Florida

April 13th, 2010

8:09 am

“The consequences of this ‘motivational weakness’ can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another.”

Yes, as we all know, in earlier times more religious cultures never inflicted any harm on one another.

84.

cristobaldelicia

Cambridge, MA

April 13th, 2010

8:09 am

My views were drastically changed by 9/11 and the “catastrophes of the twenty-first century.” It seems rather quaint now to ask if secularism is “missing something.” The question now is how to prevent violent religious extremism. The deficiencies of secularism are very welcome compared to the dangers of religious fundamentalism.

85.

Jon

Pittsburgh

April 13th, 2010

8:09 am

My worry is that compassion for others today is just a societal-level “habit” acquired from earlier times when it was an explicitly religious value (e.g., parable of the good Samaritan). Kids are taught to be nice by parents who learned that virtue from parents who could answer the question “Why should we be nice” very simply with “Because that’s what God wants us to do.”

I know it is possible to develop complicated explanations for why atheists should give more than is in their self-interest to give, but the very fact that they are complicated is potentially problematic both practically (perhaps not persuasive to the masses) and in principle (Occam’s razor favors simple explanations).

So when the inertia of goodness developed through thousands of years of religions giving simple explanations for why one should be virtuous finally peters out (those explanations were powerful motivators in their day, even if they are dismissed today), will complicated philosophical arguments be enough?

86.

Jack

New Jersey

April 13th, 2010

8:09 am

Much of that global response to victims of natural disasters noted by by poster 1 is religiously motivated by those in the secular world from whom the moral claims of religion still function. And, I would submit, that even when response comes from non-religious individuals and/or communities (inclusing the modern liberal state) the motivation is often the residuum of religion in their cultures. To be the keeper of brother and sister, to work for the common good — theis still has power, albeit less than it once may have for ther reasons Habermas gives. the question, then, may not be how to “introduce” religious motivation into secular reason, but rather how to draw on the best of what remains of its legacy in the secular world — and, dare I hope, to reinvigorate its living power in people’s lives.

87.

JSaint

Barrington, RI

April 13th, 2010

8:09 am

There is a perfect opportnity here to follow-up this article with a summary of the ideas of Alisdair McIntyre and the perspective of other Aristotelian-Thomists… whereas Habermas came to understand “what’s missing” late in his career, McIntyre and others have been putting flesh on this bone for decades. Hope you can follow-up.

88.

Laura

Ithaca NY

April 13th, 2010

8:10 am

Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the social structures of Black-capped Chickadee or Florida Scrub-Jay flocks knows that even in the natural world, there often is “motivation for solidarity.” Scrub-Jay flocks are composed of family groups, but chickadee flocks, composed of non-related individuals, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare of the entire flock in a manner very much in keeping with the intent of our own society’s Founding Fathers. Chickadees even welcome into their flocks migrating birds of other species.

Meanwhile, are you excluding the Roman Catholic Church from your pronouncement that religions “insist on the rightness, for everyone, of their doctrines”? Or are pedophila and the institutional cover-up of criminal behavior somehow excluded from Catholic doctrine?

89.

George Bailey

New Jersey

April 13th, 2010

8:10 am

Speaking of earthquake victims, the example of Haiti stands out. A Caribbean Island full of Africans which used to be a Caribbean island full of Caribs is also a result of morally mis-guided colonial “collective action” Punished for centuries for the crime of being the only successful revolt of enslaved human beings during the enlightenment (slaveholding) era, Haiti remains a ward of the descendants of the colonial powers that created it. The decaying but still vital religious mindset in the centuries following the 15th century did not restrain but rather blessed and participated in the “motivational weakness” that manifested itself as the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

90.

ajf

Europe

April 13th, 2010

8:10 am

It is not the ethics and visions that lack the enlightenment, it is the reason. Of course there can be ethics and “morally guided collective action” without religion. The post-modern question, which Fish and Habermas ignore, but which is still the right question to ask, is whether there are such things as objective reason, scientific truth, or not having a “worldview”. Religion has a legitimate place not because naive naturalism is missing any qualities of a worldview, but quite the opposite, it has a place, because the alternative (enlightement/humanism/naturalism – however you call it), is no way nearer to “the truth”.

91.

fauxscot

randolph, vermont

April 13th, 2010

8:10 am

Any possible shortcoming of reason is to be contrasted against the plethora of shortcoming of religion. Chief among these is the reliance on fantasy to solve the world’s problems, and the willing subjection of the human mind to the control of self-appointed arbiters.

Those things about which religion claims to be superior on the other hand, (such as compassion, hope, and order) abound in the minds and hearts of the secular.

Religion, in most of its forms on this planet, is a net loss for mankind. Time to grow up.

92.

Will Katerberg

Grand Rapids, MI

April 13th, 2010

8:10 am

My sense is that the response of the nations of the world to earthquake victims proves the point made by Habermas–because such responses are the exception, in the case of unusual extreme events, that proves the rule. The day-to-day quotidian rule is ignoring the millions of deaths from violence in places like the DR Congo, the extreme poverty in many parts of the world, the more modest poverty in our own United States, etc..

Studies by social scientists like Robert Putnam indicate the same: a decline in solidarity in ethno-culturally diverse liberal democratic societies. In general, people do not donate enough personal time and wealth to address these problems; nor are they willing to pay taxes sufficient to allow government spending to do the job–within their own nation, let alone globally. Even in a place like Sweden, which once had a robust welfare state, there has been a decline of welfare programs in recent years–in part because of economic strain, but also, evidence suggests, because of the growing diversity in Sweden created by immigrants, many of them non-white.

This is not to say that religious communities have done startlingly better–at least not for people outside of their own community. But Habermas and Putnam seem to be right about the failure of tolerance-minded, ethno-culturally diverse liberal democratic societies. They are about individual autonomy, at the cost of solidarity and a meaningful collective sense of purpose or meaning.

93.

Eli

Boston, MA

April 13th, 2010

8:11 am

Religion is not the only sources of moral and aesthetic sensibility to balance out the limitation of reason.

The practice of secular art, secular music, secular literature, secular poetry, and as Babette’s Feast has demonstrated even extraordinary gourmet cooking can awaken the human spirit and strengthen the moral clarity sometimes better than any religion can.

94.

J.Lye

Ontario, Canada

April 13th, 2010

8:11 am

Don’t we need to parse out a few terms here? Such as, what we mean by “religion”? If we need self-awareness, moral reflection, enlightenment about ourselves, that’s a useful conversation, and one at which “secular” (another term that needs a tad of work) thought may be more adept than the article suggests that Habermas believes. But just when did “religion” – Christianity, say, or Islam – bring justice? Or, in many people, any moral reflection or self-awareness at all? Maybe we had better go back and review the notion that a “rationalist” position does not admit a self-reflective, reverent element and that only “religion,” so often tied to a regimentation and a patrolling of the borders of its moral strictures and an insistence on it’s sole and unique authority. Let’s keep a little history in mind here.

95.

Sal Anthony

Queens, NY

April 13th, 2010

8:11 am

Dear Mr. Fish,

Einstein once said the world is divided between those who think nothing is a miracle and those who think everything is a miracle. Those who seek God in the abstract and those who seek God in the details are really seeking and seeing the same thing. People of faith don’t believe all they see is all there is. Neither do people of science. If the two sides really reflect on the question, they will see that theirs is a common faith.

Cordially,
Sal Anthony

96.

David Todd

Miami, FL

April 13th, 2010

8:11 am

I am not religious at the retail level but maybe yes in a deeper sense.
I sent the remark I am about to quote plus the link to Mr. Fish’s article to friends who are religious (FYI, New York Times readers, my friends are not salivating, blank-eyed monkeys, although I know you will insist they are): “I never thought that Stanley Fish, a professor at FIU, could be serious about anything except his cleverness. This article shows me I was wrong.”
My very best to Mr. Fish.

97.

John Quinn

Detroit

April 13th, 2010

8:11 am

Responding to Mr. Yanosek (1):
This, of course, assumes aid to victims is motivated by something internal to modern enlightenment rationality. I suppose that could be true in individual cases (and I would be interested in the reasoning process underlying the decision to help in those cases), but I am not aware of evidence to support the assumption in a broader context. Are you?

98.

Blackstone Coke

London

April 13th, 2010

8:11 am

I suspect that what is missing is a realistic appraisal of human consciousness which acknowledges that we think simultaneously from up to down and down to up, assembling the parts to make a whole, as rationally as we possibly can, but also projecting a totality from which we then analyse the parts. Religion has always been the institution which honours this tragic, double-vision and the history of religion marks the parade of attempted solutions to the problem. Habermas should be applauded for recognising the problem from the other side as it were. The rest of us liberals may have to wait for progress in artificial intelligence to be convinced that are brains really do work in a way that we do not think they do. Freud tried to explain it, but he didn’t get it quite right. Lacan was on to this, too, but, like Cassandra, he was cursed with incomprehensibility.

99.

Jean-Paul Bataille

Luxembourg

April 13th, 2010

8:12 am

Hey, have any of you read Emile Durkheim? He wrote a book about religion that is still to this day probably the most important work on the subject (Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse). he claims that religion is basically a shared set of beliefs and moral codes that are centered around a sacred object. The 19th century witnessed the death of God (which he, along with Nietzsche declares), in which the Christian tradition was no longer applicable to reality. There was the emergence of a new religion at the time, one based on rationality.

His entire work (between 1893-1917) outlines the emergence of this new secular religion, what he calls the ‘cult of the individual.’ This religion has as its sacred object (its God) the human individual. The individual is sacred and is granted inalienable rights and is perceived to hold a certain amount of dignity. This religion is based largely on enlightenment rationality and Durkheim was also a torch bearer of the enlightenment. He tried to make the enlightenment work within modernity, ie, he tried to synthesize rationality with religious belief! The result is some sort of a hybrid between what can be called irrational faith and rationality, with science, rationality, and the individual’s rationing capacities all articles of faith that constituent a religious doctrine (the universal declaration of the rights of man can be seen as modernity’s bible).

This seems incredibly relevant to the above discussion! and it was all presaged more than a century ago!

What remains to be seen is how exactly this religion of humanity, with its moral code of protecting the dignity and rights of individuals, is adhered to today, especially given the failure of reason and humanism to prevent the violence of the 20th century. The collective response to the Haiti disaster demonstrates that the religion of humanity is still very strong, and that the morality implied with the cult of the individual still has strong sway. However, the fact that Haiti has largely been forgotten by the world already (lets not forget Chili either) means that the religion of humanity, the ‘cult of the individual,’ is replete with the same superficiality, internal inconsistencies, and flagrant hypocrisy as basically any other religion.

hope this enlightens your day

100.

Dean Shuey

Philippines

April 13th, 2010

8:12 am

The supposition is that faith can be created by will, i.e. if it is useful, then it should be professed.. It strikes me as manipulative and cynical and encouraging the profession of faith even if it does not exist for social reasons. How does one create faith? Can faith be coerced for the common good? I don’t think so. So, if faith is necessary, then it forces a large number of people into hypocrisy.

101.

John Crowley

Massachusetts

April 13th, 2010

8:12 am

The only religions considered here are those with a transcendent single deity, a strict theology, an ethics and morality supposedly derived from the dictates or from the nature of that deity, and positing that no morality or basis for social action can exist or persist without it (“If there is no God, everything is permitted.”) But what if this is backward, and the religions of the world (including, at one extreme, the kind just described) derive from some discoverable common human nature (discoverable by science, by reflection, by experience)? What if nurture of children, friendship, honoring of parents, fairness, justice, disgust at mendacity or pointless cruelty or overweening pride, are simply part of that nature, however encoded in the evolution of religion? The expansion of group solidarity/sympathy/care to others outside the family/tribe/clan to others and at last to all people (all men are brothers”) and eventually to nonhuman life and the Earth (“Gaia”) may all be ultimately derived from an objectively determined human nature (determined, established, not “proven” by “secular reason”.) That not only could form the basis of a fine religion, it already has (Tao, Confucianism, Roman civil religion). Why should a secular humanist have a funeral? Why did Roman philosophers have them, why did Socialist leaders have them, why do great scientists have them? Because it is part of our common heritage to want to honor and remember those we love and admire, and also to be remembered by those who will come after, who are part of our common human family. That this could puzzle anybody I find quite strange, and another blinkered oddity of our society’s failure to see any religion that doesn’t have a transcendant God, a separated non-material human soul, and an afterlife.

102.

Charles

Slough, UK

April 13th, 2010

8:12 am

Excellent essay again, Dr. Fish. Habermas’ ongoing dialogue is another instance of the accelerating interpenetration and entwining of religion and science.

Extremely interesting work in theology is being done by those such as John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, and many others, who are also scientists, while some of the most interesting science in cosmology, genetics, and other areas is being done by scientists who are being led to accept the existence of a transcendental dimension of reality in addition to physical reality.

I think we will see a flowering of insight as the dancing embrace of science and religion continues. It is not a question of “either/or”; it is a matter of “both/and”.

103.

sherm

lee ny

April 13th, 2010

9:22 am

For religion to add constructively to an liberal egalitarian world view, wouldn’t it have to embrace a liberal egalitarian world view itself? If religion’s contribution to society is merely attempts to enforce its own dogma (e.g. anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-woman rights) , where that dogma has no egalitarian substance, then it will wither.

At some point theory has to be tested. Us liberals don’t reject God, but are very wary of a God that rejects us. So if Prof Fish gave us a few specific examples of where religion can enhance the egalitarian society, his discourse would have more transparency. Examples that have a feudalistic tinge might just reinforce the notion he prefers the opaque.

104.

MR

Ann Arbor

April 13th, 2010

9:22 am

The comment in No. 1 above assumes that the motivation for helping earthquake victims was rooted in modern enlightenment rationality, when it may, in fact, have sprung from religious notions. We don’t know, in most cases, why the people leading those nations chose to help.

Recommend  Recommended by 3 Readers

105.

General Custer

Little big Horn

April 13th, 2010

9:22 am

I’ve always had a question, but no one has ever answered: Why does anyone care what Habermas thinks? Really.

106.

JB

PA

April 13th, 2010

11:22 am

re: The liberal state has lost its grip on the image of the whole.

It’s the way members of the media (1) lobby me to create for them a law that will free them from the need to go to jail if they refuse to name their sources and (2) when they are threatening me with the fact that a journalist in jail represents a lack of a free press.

First, I’m the government: the very body that the journalist-lobbyist claims is going to put him in jail. Second, “lack of a free press” means that the speaker knows that nobody will talk (or, as the case may be, squeal). Who could know that he possessed such a thing (unless he was someone who was the last citizen to have existed in one of the lost civilizations).

107.

Helvetico

Switzerland

April 13th, 2010

11:22 am

Amongst the vast majority of humans, there is no split between reason and religion. Most people employ whatever tool best fits the task at hand, never bothering to think about the incompatibility between reason and magical thinking. This would explain why the faithful go to medical doctors instead of just praying for a miracle.

Reason is directly correlated to material wealth: rich countries with good wealth distribution (Japan, Denmark) are jam-packed with atheists. Poor countries with glaring income differences (Nigeria, Indonesia) are full of the faithful. Why? If man can provide, there is no reason to turn to magic. The US is the notable exception to this, thanks to its history as a haven for religious extremists, but its economic decline will soon align its magical thinking squarely with the GDP of the rest of the developing world.

You would be advised to think along actual kinship lines (as opposed to the strained genealogical metaphor you invoke for reason and religion) if you want to understand human behavior. Individuals exist as vehicles for their DNA, at least as far as the DNA is concerned. What matters most is producing offspring, not finding meaning in life. We care most about those most closely related to us (relatives), followed by non-relatives who can facilitate the mission of reproduction indirectly via beneficial social ties (friends, co-workers). In a word, think tribalism, not globalism.

Before Christianity came along to popularize monotheism by eliminating the maternal descent requirement, monotheism was a tribal religion, with a God who took sides and slaughtered the opposition mercilessly. No world solidarity there. Christianity and Islam spread monotheism by diluting it: the lack of blood ties made them more accessible, yet weaker. They spread globe-wide, but not very deep.

Contrast this with Judaism, which has survived remarkably well into the 21st Century thanks to blood ties that are centuries-deep. All that begetting in the Old Testament loudly affirms this. If genes are the ties that truly bind, and reason is crumbling, then what is the glue of this global solidarity you imagine?

108.

BKB

Stavanger, Norway

April 13th, 2010

11:23 am

These discussion usually, and inexplicably, ignore Buddhism and its millions of followers.

For example, at the Buddha’s funeral what was celebrated was precisely the understanding that the Buddha was NOT “passing on”. His cycle of reincarnation had now ended with his soul being “blown out” like a candle flame (“Nibana”). I once inadvertently asked a Buddhist whether he “prayed” to Buddha. He was a bit annoyed and said: “Buddha is dead. He is gone. He will not return.”

Most Buddhists seem to live rather moral lives in orderly societies without the dogmas of religion. The practice of Buddhism is colorful and touching and this may help hold commmunities together, but basically it is a godless religion.

109.

Eve

Fredericksburg VA

April 13th, 2010

11:23 am

Motivation for solidarity and morally guided collective action are central reasons for rejecting the intolerance of religion. Believing that we are all in this together, not separately as Christians, Muslims, Catholics or Jews, but as human beings — demonstrates compassion and hope. And there is nothing a church can offer in last rites that won’t always be transcended by the love and memories of one’s friends and family. Nice try.

110.

Sam

Chicago

April 13th, 2010

11:23 am

This discussion conflates the human need for ritual with religion.

111.

Amy

Midwest

April 13th, 2010

11:24 am

“To be sure, one could regard funerals for faith-less persons as a vestige of values no longer vital or as a concession to the feelings and desires of family members, but Habermas chooses to take it seriously “as a paradoxical event which tells us something about secular reason.”

Do you mean RELIGIOUS funerals for faith-less persons? I sincerely hope that you did not intend what you stated here: that funerals for nonbelievers — making no distinction between religious and secular ceremonies — cannot be “serious” or meaningful events.

I attend funerals to celebrate the life of the deceased and mourn their loss. To suggest, as you seem to do here, that this is not a “serious” reason to have a funeral is to either deny the very real emotional connections between people or to presume that the non-religious do not have strong emotional ties.
The latter, in particular, is both false and deeply offensive.

112.

Frederick Glaysher

Rochester, MI

April 13th, 2010

11:47 am

The whole context of the discussion is too restricted to answer the ontological question. Modernity has moved on from the narrow exclusivism of the traditional conception of religion. The futility of the exchange of “views” that takes place in such a context has long been predictable. The Global Age has exposed the Nietzschean assumptions as tawdry cliches, of which some can not let go. Far from God being dead and all religions false, the “problem” lies in our conception of it, for all religions are true. Life has moved on to what is universal, non-exclusive, pluralistic in human experience. The anguish over Enlightenment values, reason, modernity constitutes the rationalist analog to the fundamentalist hope of “return” to an imagined past.

“Man is his thought.” Around the globe, human experience continues to change the thinking of forward-looking people.

113.

ani

boston

April 13th, 2010

11:48 am

I think a lot of people do this whether they are completely aware of it or not: we focus our intellect or cognitive capacity or trained skills on a problem, and at the same time we open our heart to help from beyond us, and somehow then we find ourselves with deeper insights, a better melody, a flowing paragraph, an apt translation, a solution we hadn’t seen before, an appreciation of long-term consequences (both positive and negative) for others of a scientific development — that’s how “reason” and the spiritual (I am not referring to religious doctrinal beliefs) work together. It’s like an elephant and a mahout collaborating, and sometimes the elephant knows better than the “guide” where to step, or not to step, and we mahouts do better to “listen.” I think it’s really all about listening and discerning.

114.

FTJ

Ontario

April 13th, 2010

11:48 am

Moral values are not the exclusive domain of the religious. Human rights are lacking in too many religions. The unacceptence of the rights of women in Roman Catholicism and other major religions is an example. History shows that a religion’s values demanded that others conform to their view and in too many instances carried out their demands with brutality. One does not need to be a Liberal or a Conservative to see the evil in that. Constitutions need to be above the law of religion to protect its people from the barbarism of misinterpreted Gods. Some will always believe that they can see the misinterpretations of both the “other religions” and atheism. Please God save us from the some of the evil morality that is religion based. The superior morality is to keep the separation of the Church and the State.

The good nation will respond with unity to a crisis on humanitarian grounds or even to its own survival, in order to preserve its ideals which includes the right to pursue religious or non religious beliefs.

115.

Fmueller

Sboro, MA

April 13th, 2010

11:48 am

Good gosh this is just such a bunch of academic “gas” Mr. Fish……

Like an argument with my dear wife who makes a questionable point, then before that first one is settled, is on to the next one, based on the (false) imperative of the first….

How can anyone possibly lay blame the “catastrophe of recent history” at the feet of “secular liberal reason” . Who flew the 767s into the WTC? Just to pick one…….

116.

G. Robertson

Arlington, VA

April 13th, 2010

11:48 am

Science and rationality is so often portrayed as just being about things and how they work, but what is lost in this portrayel is the sense of beauty and wonder that attends a close inspection and growing understanding of the natural world and the abstract foundations of math which underlies it. I don’t see how faith, as an adherence to a particular creed in the absence of reason, can add to this.

I also don’t see how faith is needed for normative motivations, morality in a word. At base, we all experience impulses to do good and “evil,” and on top of this, most of us I assume have codes to live by. The former I see as the product of sociobiology and an ineffable sense of joy that pervades all (there’s the rub, eh?), the latter as simply codifications, or cookbooks, that help us get through life. Faith has never been a part of my life, and, as far as I’m concerned, secularism and science can go it alone.

117.

DrBB

Boston

April 13th, 2010

11:48 am

Seems like the ancient dialectic between *scientia* and *sapientia* is still with us. The trans-rational: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

118.

Mark E White

Atlanta

April 13th, 2010

11:49 am

As the Enlightenment ideals that have served us so well are under attack, Fish’s column is a beacon of clarity. His point that lack of solidarity is a major weakness of secular liberal government as we practice it, is excellent. I have long been troubled that I had only an emotional feeling that “solidarity is good,” without being able to define it or discuss it in rational terms. Fish very helpfully defines solidarity as “morally guided collective action.”

Yes, Enlightenment thinking values solidarity, but the fact that the cravenness of Wall Street investment banks goes unpunished — and is indeed seen as moral and rational by a large segment of our population — is an example of how solidarity has gradually been forgotten as we take the many benefits of Enlightenment thinking for granted.

Excellent column!

119.

Dr.G.

NYC

April 13th, 2010

11:49 am

“…the authority of the holy,” he once declared, “is gradually replaced by the authority of an achieved consensus.”

It seems to me that a retreat from the expectation of gradual achievement of consensus may well be an expression of despair in the face of the resurgence of religious fundamentalism that itself may be viewed as a consequence of many influences but figuring largely among them are these:

a.the implosion of one secular religion that was Soviet communism
b. the depredations of another secular religion which was free market capitalism
c. the exploitation of religious bigotry for political ends which, people being people, constitutes in some large measure the “authority of the holy”.

120.

George Orr

Washington, DC

April 13th, 2010

11:49 am

This is a strange claim, “in the context of full-bodied secularism, there would seem to be nothing to pass on to, and therefore no reason for anything like a funeral” and I think symptomatic of the entire essay. Just because a secularist, like myself, may believe myself to be literally soulless, it doesn’t mean I am figuratively soulless. Funerals are a way to formally and collectively say goodbye to friends and families. I don’t to have to believe that they have gone to a “better place” to find a reason for and comfort in marking their death by ceremony.

121.

D. Anderson

Wisconsin

April 13th, 2010

11:49 am

Didn’t Dr Fish get a squiggly green line under that entire second paragraph?

122.

S.H.

Cape May

April 13th, 2010

11:50 am

The secular world, lead by it’s scientists, wants limits put on carbon emissions to save the planet. The religious world poo-poo’s global warming as another crazy assertion by “scientists”. Or, they secretly rejoice in science’s findings because it affirms their end-of-the-world prophesies.

What were you saying about motivation to solidarity, present sacrifice for future gain, and absolute rightness?

Like it or no, life is far vaster than than anything reason or religion can prepare us for. So perhaps the world will descend into sectarian warfare and environmental collapse (which the scientists predict), and the world’s only human survivors are a small strange religious sect in some remote area.

Does that say anything at all about the “truth” or “rightness” of either point of view?

123.

Margaret Strother

Ithaca, NY

April 13th, 2010

11:50 am

Having returned to the US after living many years overseas, I have come to the belief that there are huge gaps between the liberal-rational pluralistic society philosophy that, Sarah Palin notwithstanding, underlies American statehood, and the cultural and philosophical motivations of many other peoples and cultures. For us, as Americans, liberal pluralism IS our religion. It exists in parallel with other faiths and systems, in the unique American experiment — as a nation of immigrants, which reinvents itself in every generation, it would have to be so. However, there is no reason this would necessarily appeal to European or Middle Eastern nations. There, tribalism underlies most religious conflicts, and there is no real interest in compromise with the Other — the other religion, ethnicity, or nation that shares a border or a water source or a microscopic piece of territory. Old-worlders may aspire to our values, but only 65 years after the fall of National Socialism, they have a long way to go. The best way for us to share this model with them is to believe in it ourselves. That means to abandon the chacun à son goût relativism that mysteriously licenses liberals to justify every indigenous evil from the burka to the Berlin Wall and say out loud, OUR way is the right way. Human rights, embracing diversity, open elections, a vibrant but respectful public discourse, and a free press. That is our creed, however imperfect it remains in practice, and it is every bit as inspiring as the mummified words of some dead prophet, avatar or saint.

124.

MS

New Jersey

April 13th, 2010

11:51 am

Another desperate attempt to justify irrationality by someone who obviously is incapable of rational thought.

125.

Ken Sepeda

Bedford, PA

April 13th, 2010

11:51 am

Mr. Fish, Your/Habermas’ reasoning is so inductive that one doesn’t know where to begin to highlight the obvious errors in your argument/article. However, Mr. Yanosek points out a timely example of the almost silly arguments you discuss as “proof” that Habermas has found that “something is missing.” Your quotes are selective and your argument assumes, as in “the case of the burial in Zurich” (perhaps Perry Mason or Pat Robertson will seek the TV rights), to deal a death blow to a purely secular life in the modern age. Reason knows that this piece is missing a faithful rendering of any humanist position and that it, reason, has been hijacked by this religious tract masquerading as a philosophical argument.

126.

T.J.

Boston

April 13th, 2010

11:51 am

You, Habermas, and the others mentioned here write as if people live exclusively in either Secular or Religiously oriented world views. I’m quite certain that is not the case. Normal people (i.e., non-philosophiles) have much less trouble living with the hypocrisy of simultaneously accepting both. Habermas’ merge between the two worlds exists now. You might argue that these “lay-people” lack the acuity to see their own folly. I say the perceived divergence between the secular and religious is only sustained by such meanderings as found above. Perhaps these lay people *know* something philosopher’s do not- they know how to live.

127.

llgaither

Upstate New York

April 13th, 2010

11:52 am

“The liberal citizen is taught that he [sic] is the possesser of rights and that the state exists to protect those rights, chief among which is the right to choose.”

Our on-going struggle in this country over health care legislation is a case in point. Tea-Bag liberty confronts cooperative action for public welfare. The “rights” vocabulary, although a precious cultural achievement, as is liberty, presumes winners and losers in a process of adjudication. Rights/justice must be balanced by Mercy/love in a vibrant society. Mercy approaches ethical problems from a win-win perspective, seeking solutions that protect the weakest among us … ask any mother! Justice and mercy are in creative tension … which takes us to the heart of the paradox of the Judeo-Christian god symbol. “Hold fast to love and justice and wait continually for your God.” (Hosea 12:6) Reasoned judgments alone cannot encompass paradox … and paradox is the nature of reality!

128.

JP

New York

April 13th, 2010

11:52 am

Reader responses should be mindful, the ideas Fish presents are selected, edited and rhetorically contextualized excerpts of ideas originally expressed by Habermas in the course of a particular, and limited context, a symposium with Jesuit scholars. Fish is making his points rather than presenting those of Habermas.

129.

Tom

Germany

April 13th, 2010

11:52 am

As most writings in the wider science vs. religion debate, this post also makes on crucial ommision:

There are thousands of religions and we have no way to determine which of them is to be preferred. Therefor, religion can only provide moral guidance in questions where at least most religions agree, i.e. only in trivial cases.

130.

Connecticut Yankee

Danbury CT

April 13th, 2010

11:52 am

If ignorance and fear motivate you, religion may be your bag.

Otherwise, read Epicurus.

131.

Jim Farrell

Crookston

April 13th, 2010

11:52 am

Mr. Fish: Got Off My Opinion Page! This is no place for willful ignorance. I am personally offended that you propagate the illusion that morals come from god. Ethics were created by man to organize clans and larger social groupings. The whole god thing was a distraction from the get-go, mostly used to keep the peasants in their place (i.e. the Karma concept keeps the Caste system in place.) and to give up their wealth to the god-king.

There has never been any divine inspiration and we certainly don’t need a member of the intelligentsia appealing for more religion in civic matters. Do you really believe your god had second thoughts about slavery and wearing mixed fiber clothing only 2000 years ago? I look forward to a day when we have progressed to the point that such crazy beliefs are closeted out of deserved embarrassment and fear of general derision. We do not profit from magical thinking getting in the way of problem solving.

132.

tom

oklahoma city

April 13th, 2010

11:52 am

There is absolutely no emperical evidence to support the existence of any god and there is plenty of emperical evidence that does not support it.

133.

J

Austin

April 13th, 2010

12:00 pm

It seems to me that Habermas admits that reason has not explained everything, perhaps cannot explain everything. The question is whether we just need a little big more reasoning to explain everything. At least some scientists and mathematicians think not-Godel’s theorem suggests there are always more truths to be discovered, and Hawking has stated that “our search for understanding will never come to an end.” Understanding is what we seek to perform the perfect act; religion is our attempt to sense what we do not know, what cannot be grasped with the limitations of our reason, be they due to defects in rationality itself or the inadequacies of our mind. That doesn’t mean religion actually learns what we do not know all the time, but it appears in many cases to motivate actions we later consider to be affirmatively good from a rational perspective. Just as reason can be used for good or ill, so can religion. It is up to each of us to find the usefulness in each, always ready to adjust our thinking with more experience and thought.

134.

Ken

Boston

April 13th, 2010

12:00 pm

I wonder whether religious societies are ever as unified by a single vision as this idealized depiction of religion assumes. Christianity is no monolithic world view. It is divided among Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Each of these groups is divided in turn into different sects and orders. Within the Catholic Church the Jesuits are not Opus Dei are not Liberation Theology are not the Franciscans. Irish Catholicism is not Mexican Catholocism. And the tradition is constantly transforming itself over time. The Church of Augustine is not the Church of Aquinas is not the Church of John Paul II.

Rarified post-modern thinkers like Habermas or Fish may be too keenly aware that there is no underlying source of meaning in Enlightenment proceduralism. But most people are not and still have a sense of right and wrong and purpose even if they “neither acknowledge nor know nor can know” what their ultimate source is. Our post-modern societies may be fragmented into multiple communities of meaning. But for all that religious cultures can point to God as an ultimate source of meaning and value, they still cannot agree on what God actually stands for or commands them to do.

135.

cud

New York, NY

April 13th, 2010

12:03 pm

If your reading is fair, then Habermas suffers from two straw-man propositions. First that because science *doesn’t* question the right or wrong of what it produces, it can’t. And even the first half of that claim is bogus — science does evaluate the right or wrong of its own making, or rather of its own applications. Climate science and global warming provide a perfect example of the capability of science to say “this is wrong”, and to propose what is correct. Not only that, but the end results of following the proposed “correct” path would look remarkably like moralizing — probably the main reason nobody wants to go along. Reject excess. Think about the consequences of your actions. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The scientific cure for global warming could be summed up in these tropes, although in a rational society the science behind them would be more convincing. Medicine is a science founded on right and wrong, I might add.

Anybody who says science can’t provide the sense of wonder others find in religion has never studied astronomy. I’ll just leave it at that.

The second straw man is that the violence of tribes and nations proves the failure of rational, post-religious society. Surely, he can’t have said this! What post-religious societies and tribes did he hold up as examples? The notion that any society of consequence has achieved a post-religious state is hard to swallow. And what religious societies and tribes did he give us that are less violent? I suppose the Spanish Inquisition was not an example of violence.

Nothing could be more subjective than the claim that Man is made in the image of God. The conclusion of that logic is that to know God you *must* only look into yourself — you cannot trust the authority of any other human figure. Read the bible, and look into yourself for God’s wisdom about the words. Ask God whether it’s right to invade a country, and whether it’s right to lie to the world to justify the invasion. And, as the Spanish say, un largo etcetera. The trajectory of monotheism has been away from the natural world, into the private and uncontrolled heart of the individual. It has been used to justify anything and everything. How that is better than science is a mystery to me. It’s fitting that this trajectory ultimately landed at post-modernism, where even that subjectivity isn’t subjective enough. Now, with the failure of post-modernism (that Habermas correctly rejects), let’s pull our heads out of our… navels, and take a look at the real world. And let’s make some real decisions that have some really beneficial consequences. Or at least, let’s try to the best of our abilities.

136.

AAW

Ithaca, NY

April 13th, 2010

12:03 pm

Habermas is essentially trying to grapple with the emotionless detachment that procedural rationality entails. For reason alone hardly motivates one to check the passions that are stirred by social movements, especially those emanating from violence predicated on an eschatological fervor that usually appears when groups feel existentially threatened. Hence the rise of mass movements with genocidal intent — whether based on ethnic or national or religious fear of annihilation; and the force of such destructive tendencies that are spurred by political entrepreneurs who use emotionally gripping fear to incite a sense that without premeditated attack now on the designated out-group, the in-group faces the threat from extinction whether in the form of communal violence as witnessed in the former in Yugoslavia and Rwanda (ethnocide) or based on massive population transfers arising from the collapse of large multinational empires with a multiplicative draw of religious traditions and a sense that unless expulsion of infidels however defined, the in-group will cease to persist (as in the case of the Armenian Genocide which would have not arisen without the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of cohesive, ethnically unitary, modern nation-states). Coldly calculating the threats to moral universalism and teleological commitments to the aims of an Enlightened liberal order will hardly compel by-standers to intervene if they are not directly affected. So too does endless discussion over whether threats to the “national interest” of a particular state by its public intellectuals and elite policy-makers spur action merely through disinterested calculation of risk versus reward. No the missing ingredient if you will is emotional attachment that enables rationality to move from cold deliberation to engaged action.

From an evolutionary perspective, humans have always been defined by their religiosity if defined as the search for meaning of ultimate questions. We instinctively seek answers to fundamental questions about the meaning of human existence, our relationship to other species and our own, the relationship between the seen and unseen, the living and the dead, the mystery of human consciousness, the relationship between our thoughts/beliefs and the empirical world and the relationship between the empirical world as we come to know it through sensation and empirical convergence of bodies in motion and whether there is persistence of the dream world (as the Aborigines call it) and the living. Simply examine the oldest human remains (paleoarchaeology) and one immediately comes into contact with rock-art, cave paintings and an assortment of creative tools and artefacts that bear witness to human thought and experience with the world as it is and the world of our ancestors as we conceive of them. We are metaphysical to the core.
And no, there is no logical entailment from recognizing the evolutionary necessity for religious belief and formal rigid, hierarchical forms of organized religion that negate individual commitment to determining one’s own set of beliefs to their subordination for the good of the formal religious community that places all of its emphasis on subordination of the individual will for group solidarity and rituals that demarcates group membership from apostates to “damned” outsiders. (This is a fundamental flaw in Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who fail to distinguish religion as the search for individual meaning allowing for spontaneity and iconoclastic actions and experiences and formal organizations that channel beliefs in ways most that are by definition inimical to personalized freedom of thought and actions since the group trumps the individual. The current catastrophic crisis in the Roman Catholic Church stems from the desire to perpetuate the organization and shield its leaders scandal in order to assert their legitimate monopoly of power. We can witness the appalling depreciation of the effects on individuals (in most cases young children and their trusting and largely oblivious parents and families until very recently). So Habermas is right to try to seek a rapprochement with religion. But this need not take the form of shackling the goals of secular enlightenment to the unflinching power of mass religious movements with complex organizational forms and increasingly more rigid views that seem to grow in relation to the intensity of their tendencies toward conservative, authoritarian structures. Instead, the focus should be on aligning reason with emotion and seeking to creatively develop syncretic forms of the good life for members of contemporary supra-states with forms of capital accumulation and vast inequalities that seem far from the vision emanating from the original conception of Enlightenment thinkers. Reason without passions and interests are liabilities given the power that organized religion on emotional commitments and the imaginations of their members.

137.

chrislondon

manhattan

April 13th, 2010

12:03 pm

In my family, we just bury our dead. Take the box of ashes to the cemetery where we have a family plot, dig a hole, people speak who want to speak, bury the box. Then we go have a family picnic, reminisce with each other, be the family our dead one helped create, and then go back to our daily lives. No religious mumbo jumbo other than what the individuals in the family each bring on their own, certainly no need for some proclaimed religious leader to preside.

It’s also noteworthy to me that at no point was there any mention of capitalism. Market rationality is the key instance of the instrumental reason Habermas spent a significant chunk of his career critiquing. It is the perfect example of how instrumental reason can lead us into irrationality precisely because it is amoral and quite readily unethical. It is quite right to say that reason needs morals and the ethics they put into practice. It is quite wrong to say that religion must be the source of ethics. It seems absurd to have to say this given that philosophy has long supplied us with profound reflections on morals and ethics. If today there seems to be an greater need for a broad based conversation about morality, it’s because we’ve allowed market rationality to run amok, not because religious institutions have been to some degree marginalized

138.

stephen

Utah

April 13th, 2010

12:03 pm

More post-modernist rubbish. Bertrand Russell said it well:

“Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe.”

It is OK to say “I don’t know.” We need not embrace the dubious, inhumane, and harsh dogmas of a religion just be cause it claims to have answers to questions that science has not yet answered. It is akin to saying “Science can’t tell me the answer to the meaning of life, so I will worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster because it makes me feel reassured.”

Please.

139.

Derek Fields

NJ

April 13th, 2010

12:04 pm

What underpins the failure of secular reason to inspire is its lack of teleology, which is hinted at in this article. The failure of religious reason is in its insularity; its inability to acknowledge the possibility of multiple, competing and complementary revelational sources. Habermas is correct in saying that the solution is a marriage of sorts between the two types of thought. This is very much something that we experience (at least in the ideal, if not in practice) in the constitutional separation between Church and State. The Liberal State acknowledges that it can make no value judgment between the competing goals and sensibilities of different religious thought, but it guarantees (at least in theory) that all of these religious arguments are protected and allowed to influence the public sphere. Habermas doesn’t go far enough. The state should elevate religious debate and dialogue, along side the contributions of secular/scientific inquiry, to a valued role in the intellectual/political/social arena.

140.

SnowMe

Missouri

April 13th, 2010

12:04 pm

I think that the idea that science belongs only to the secular is completely wrong. My God created science. Human beings will never fully understand science, but to continue to try is, in my view, the attempt to understand God. The satisfaction of scientific understanding is an act of worship of God’s creation.

141.

Elizabeth Fuller

Peterborough, NH

April 13th, 2010

12:05 pm

I remain a church-going person despite my agnosticism and dislike for what I see as the close-minded approach to the world many religious people seem to display because, like Habermas, I believe that without religion something is missing. I don’t believe, though, that what is missing is motivation. It is possible, as our founding fathers so wisely knew, to separate church and state and still live with shared ideals that motivate us to become the best we can be. There are non-believers in this world who are every bit as self-sacrificing as the belief-challenged Mother Theresa was, moved to action not in order to please God and get a heavenly reward, but rather motivated by an awareness of the importance of caring for our fellow human beings. You refer to scientists who invent things without having the slightest idea why. Scientists who do cancer research are probably very aware of why they work so hard, and even inventors of gadgets could be doing what they do in an attempt to make life easier or more enjoyable for their fellow human beings.

What I believe is missing from a world in which both science and religion do not exist together and interact is humility. Science concerns itself with those matters that at some level might be verifiable. To maintain that other matters, those addressed by philosophy or religion, are not worthy of consideration by anyone is pure arrogance. Religions construct stories that allow us to consider the unknowable. Accepting those stories as literally true in every detail, when science and rationality prove otherwise, making the previously unknown knowable, is also pure arrogance. Even humanism, if it places man at the center of the universe, is arrogant if it disregards the other living things with which we share the planet.

To me what religion should add to the mix is the humility that allows us to remain flexible and to listen to each other. The problem is that as our worlds have expanded, as life has become more complicated and frightening, we have divided ourselves into camps of those who make a god of human reason or elevate religions constructed by humans to godlike status. The sacred resides in the unknowable, what in some religions must even be unnamed. To me God is what I must humble myself before, a reality much larger than myself, to which I must remain open. I go to church because one thing that encourages me to be more humble is history–the history of the struggles of those who lived before me– and it is in church that I most connect to history–through the stories, some of them which actually happened, through the art, the music, the evolution of the prayer book, our changing understandings of the problems we all face.

Like Adam and Eve and Job we want to know all there is to know, to move forward secure in the knowledge we are headed in the right direction. And like Adam and Eve and Job, because we are human, we can’t. Instead of accepting that fact, we hunker down and become fundamentalists in our own respective camps. If our societies disintegrate because we don’t have shared values, it might be because we don’t have institutions that teach us the humility that can enable us to come together to create shared values. Religion can be such an institution, but so often is not. I don’t want to cede religion to those who are anything but humble, so I continue to support the church.

142.

MARC MC

Exton PA

April 13th, 2010

12:05 pm

God is a manifestation created by our ego; deal with it and stop being so terrified of death.

143.

Maxim

Washington DC

April 13th, 2010

12:05 pm

Fish, like most Christian adherents, finds his answers to the universe in religion. But this is the most unreasonable of all methodologies, because religion is the mythological invention, created by man in futile attempts to understand a seemingly incomprehensible universe.

But science is not a philosophy, it is a methodology, sometimes misused, that provides a way to understand our world. Through science we now know that earth is not 7000 years old as many Christians believe, nor are earthquakes a punishment imposed by angry gods

It seems that Sam Fish misunderstands science completely.

144.

Rebecca Shrimpton

Massachusetts

April 13th, 2010

12:06 pm

Unfortunately, massive disasters are often the only things that rouse people from the narrow focus of their self-interest, temporarily and superficially satisfying an urge to “do good.” They are hardly a basis for long-term societal purpose.

Also unfortunate is the author’s daunting and needlessly dense opening sentences, which are the verbal equivalent of a locked gate, keeping away all but the most determined readers from the vital content within. This is too important a subject to marginalize by shrouding it in academic verbiage. The English language is perfectly suited to the task of presenting complex ideas in a clear, concise fashion without diluting their content.

145.

jeff

bethesda, md

April 13th, 2010

12:06 pm

This project – to reconcile reason and religion – benefits from the advocacy of some of our most respected religious and scientific authorities, Francis Collins being the most notable recent example. Its continued failure is certainly not from lack of intellectual firepower or fervent hope.

Yet it continues to fail, spectacularly and obviously.

Habermas hopes for a bargain in which religious communities acquiesce to the demands of reason without reciprocity. Countless examples demonstrate how foolish is the hope that religion would ever strike that bargain; among them – religion demands that we eschew experimentation on embryonic stem cells, insisting instead that they face a frozen eternity or be taken out with the trash.

The reason for the continued failure of this project then, is the inability to recognize that religion does not exist without a series of claims about how we should live our lives. Reason also makes those claims. The fundamental difference is that reason appeals to evidence that is verifiable whereas religion appeals to “evidence” (or authority) that is limited only by the imagination. To hope for a world in which the resulting claims do not compete is the pinnacle of naivete.

To hope for that world is also irresponsible. Habermas himself acknowledges that to embrace religion wholesale would be to put at risk the “cognitive achievements of modernity” – little things like tolerance, equality, freedom of thought. Why do Habermas and his comrades refuse to recognize that those achievements were largely won as victories in direct confrontations with religious thinking?

And what about the intolerance, inequality, etc that still exists? What makes Habermas et al think that the Catholic Church, for example, will decide that women are fit for leadership in the Church alongside their male priests and bishops? This view, along with much of the other sexism, homophobia, etc extant in the world, will be driven into obscurity only at the expense of reasoning that appeals to God’s authority.

It is, therefore, the duty of enlightened thinkers to confront and oppose such thinking. Fear that we will create a world in which there is no reason to conduct a funeral is a red herring.

And to expand on what Martin from Michigan pointed out about the response of Liberal states to recent earthquakes, Habermas’ hypothesis proved to be not just irrelevant but exactly wrong. If anything, the degree of secularism (in, for example some EU countries) correlated inversely with the ability to formulate “collectively binding ideals”, manifest by assistance to the victims.

146.

Mark Fischler

Plymouth, NH

April 13th, 2010

12:07 pm

I would suggest that Mr. Habermas read Ken Wilber’s “Integral Spirituality.” His inability to see the nature of a spiritual reality that is post post rational creates an akward alliance of modernism/postmodernism and religion. He’s certainly on the right track in the recognition of the nihilistic tendencies of post modernism but misses the boat in his inability to see recognize a deeper truth. Wilber does and finds space for them in all according to their stage of development (read the book). That is why Wilber is the world’s greatest philosopher, not Jurgen.

147.

NormMit

Bethesda MD

April 13th, 2010

12:07 pm

The hidden (and unprovable) assumption here is that life must have a purpose. Presupposing this forces the participants to make a choice between an artificial supernaturalism or a pallid secular motivation. Their discussion runs in endless, fruitless circles without ever questioning this assumption. Why can’t they accept that life is meaningless? Are we just hardwired to keep on living, no matter what, and our rationality insists on justifying this evolutionary imperative?

148.

Jim Manos

St. Charles, IL

April 13th, 2010

12:10 pm

From my point of view this is the “something missing”:

Our societies need tolerant religious people who are constantly trying, with God’s help, to increase the openess and freedom of their hearts. These religious people, and there are plenty of them, know that their own inherent sinfulness makes them ill-equiped to judge the failings of others. But their faith, again by God’s grace, can give them moral courage. This courage (and if there is another way to achieve courage except through faith let me know) is what our secular societies need in the fearsome fight necessary to bring the powers-that-be under the true rule of secular law. This courage is also what is necessary to face and ovecome our collective anxiety. We need to do so much right now to give our human world the breathing space necessary to make a future possible for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We get the moral fiber to do so from God.

149.

RenoLady

Reno, NV.

April 13th, 2010

12:10 pm

What a bunch of gobblygook. I loved philosphy, morals, ethics and religion discussions during my younger years. As I edge toward the final segment of my days on earth, I could care less. I volunteer and try to help my fellow man and woman, try not to judge people and their actions and hope I am kind to all. Can’t post anymore…..I have to figure out whether to have eggs or waffles for breakfast.

150.

Shahab mohd Altaf

INDIA

April 13th, 2010

12:10 pm

FEAR AND REVERENCE !
The human psyche evolved
From here to monotheism
unlike Science, religion relies heavily on revelation
In Science we use both empirical and speculative reason
but science is an approximation to the truth
as the secular has its origins in the sacred
today we talk of Universal values
but we prefer plurality of religions
whether Intelligent design or Evolution
human reason has a Limit
Science is the tool, whereas religion is the source
Science and religion can co-exist
only when atavism is discarded
and bounded rationality is accepted
Religion relates to higher calling
whereas science relates to natural phenomena
the difference between physics and meta-physics
is the relation between religion and science !

152.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:13 pm

2 comments, both by one of my favorite writers;
a)- The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of His creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if He does not receive this flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history. and

b)- “Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream-up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.”

~Lazarus Long

153.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:13 pm

Saying “that in a post-secular age — an age that recognizes the inability of the secular to go it alone” is like saying “that in today’s congress – a congress that recognizes the inability of the Democrats to get anything done because the Republicans simply refuse to do anything by say ‘no’.” Reason, of a kind, CAN go it alone but weak-willed and fearful humans are too unsettled by their egotistic need to be comforted and told that everything will be okay. Religion can only tell us things that we first conjure up from nothing and have no real existence except in our pathological psychosis. Period.

I can guarantee that the first humans survived NOT because they had a profound faith in something bigger, but because they were first-class empiricists. Don’t eat that berry because it will make you sick and die. When that big animal with the sharp claws and teeth comes by, hide. When that white stuff falls from the sky, find things to wrap around yourself to keep warm, etc. The first truth of all life is that one’s experiences, the actual facts of living, are the fundamental unit of your existence and the First Giver of truth. Everything else is make-believe.

154.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:15 pm

Stanley,
Excellent article. I found this statement hauntingly true and profoundly sad: The liberal citizen is taught that he is the possessor of rights and that the state exists to protect those rights, chief among which is his right to choose. The content of what he chooses — the direction in which he points his life — is a matter of indifference to the state which guarantees his right to go there just as it guarantees the corresponding rights of his neighbors (“different strokes for different folks”).
In effect, it says life doesnt matter, which I find a disturbingly hopeless outlook.

155.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:15 pm

ja ja ja, “religion for the many, philosophy for the few”. Unless religions are finally abandoned and actual thinking and problem solving takes its place in all areas of our lives, the problems humans now face will soon be moot. Religion is a tool people who set themselves in authority use to control the rest. We need to stop being such children about our fears and relegate religion to the realm of fairytales and myth. Grow up, Mr Fish.

156.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:16 pm

When the Roman Catholic Church ran the entire western world were we more generous, forgiving, peaceful, altruistic? Why did the Enlightenment occur? I can hardly believe that the 21st century has begun with religious wars. The article was really silly.

157.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:16 pm

I can buy the notion that there is some link or need for a spiritual element for many, but beyond that, this whole commentary seemed to lack “reason.” It suggested that there are some unitary definitions for reason, religion, and liberalism. Even a cursory examination of most religions will, as noted, reveal that much of their focus is on social control. Likewise, the point of reason is the same. Indeed, one will find much in common with Calvinism and empiricism.

Even the notion of the funeral seems to illustrate coming to terms with social convention, and nothing much more signficant. Further, what is self interest? Is not the evangelism of Christians a form of self interest since Paul said to spread the word? All interest is inherently self interest, but does raise some interest epistomological questions.

158.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:16 pm

“What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is ‘unenlightened about itself’ in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments. ”

What foolish sophistry! Remove “and experiments” from the preceding quotation and substitute “religion” for “secular reason” and you have the essence of the hypocrisy Fish is peddling here. Is there anything less enlightened about itself than religious faith? This is a circular argument proceeding from a patently false premise.

Nonsense piled on nonsense!

159.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:18 pm

Fish says Habermas claims that “(r)eligions resist becoming happy participants in a companionable pluralism and insist on the rightness, for everyone, of their doctrines.” That certainly isn’t the case with post-Enlightenment Anglicanism.

If we have the United States as an example of the ‘Liberal state’ which seeks to maintain reason as a basis for governance, then we have post-Enlightenment Anglicans to thank for it. The crafters of our constitution were Enlightenment Deists who worshiped in the Anglican context. Many spent the day at Independence Hall creating America’s government, and the evening at Christ Church, Philadelphia creating the Episcopal Church. Mainstream Anglicanism has always sought to accept the tenets of the Enlightenment as further revelations of truth which reason requires us to accept and accommodate within our faith. We acknowledge the importance of reason in the life of faith, and have done so since Richard Hooker in the (pre-Enlightenment) 16th century.

And not only Anglicans, but many progressive Christians accept and venerate the ‘separation of powers’ that Fish describes, “Religion must give up the spheres of law, government, morality and knowledge; reason is asked only to be nice and not dismiss religion as irrational, retrograde and irrelevant.”

Habermas may feel as if he’s positing insightful, innovative philosophical ideas. He is not. His suggestions are old news to many mainline, progressive Christians. We’ve worked out the relationship he proposes between secular reason and religious faith long, long ago. (While reading Fish’s article, I smiled to think of how many of my parishioners — several older ‘church ladies’, a Youth Group member or two and others — could have articulated their belief in exactly the arrangement between reason and faith, secular values and sacred belief that Habermas is proposing. I expect Bill Moyers could do so as well.)

It is frustrating to practicing, progressive Christians that so many are seemingly unaware of our existence, or of the way in which we live out our faith and values in a post-Enlightenment, secular (and post-Christian) age. It’s one thing when conservative Christians dismiss our theological thought, it’s quite another when secular thinkers don’t recognize the resonance between their ‘new’ ideas and what has for some time been our intellectual tradition.

160.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:20 pm

Neither religion, nor reason, nor their combination will ever be sufficient to bring about a morally perfect society, because human beings are not morally perfect creatures. We are inherently, inescapably generous and envious, caring and cruel, loving and violent. Any worldview can become a fundamentalism and a justification for aggression in the hands of a group of people who aren’t willing to examine their actions honestly and see the similarities between themselves and whatever group they despise. For myself, I’ve never found any better guide than the Native American story of the boy who asked his grandfather why people are the way they are. The grandfather explained that in each soul there are two wolves struggling for dominance. When the boy asked which will win, the grandfather replied, “the one you feed.” The hard part, though, is being honest enough to know which one you’re feeding.

161.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:21 pm

Actually, enlightenment rationality, science and liberal governance already have what they need in order to chart their course forward. It is yet to be fully realized of course, but, it is already there. The “thing” they are lacking is a personal practice that integrates body, mind and spirit based on the underlying values of the philosophy. It should be noted that most religions have a similar lack of integrative practices, and they they fail to provide exactly the same kind of guidance for most of their practitioners that the critics of reason decry in the article above. One way forward is through Yoga. Yoga requires a personal practice, allows you to believe what you want, doesn’t require you to believe anything you don’t experience directly, requires that you be in a process of self-improvement, and to take your insights gained from the various practices off the mat and into the world. Namaste’ Y’all.

162.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:22 pm

Love to see the rationalists squirm and howl lost within the limits of their own imaginings. They boast such knowledge so much of what goes on in the minds and lives of the faithful down through the ages. They have such compassion for their fellows-not. Faith fits over the temporary circumstance we live in. There’s nothing transcendent about having all the answers when faced with the vast power of God. With calipers and scalpels they can dissect but with out heart and love they won’t detect. And until reason can answer all the unknowns of life, “the whys”, here and across the limitless universe I will hold onto faith in the “author of personality”.

Haiti for example, most of the charitable work has been by faith based groups. Now it may well be a hopeless cause. Haiti may never be a clean modern society like OURS, but the care given to the hopeless; those who are truly, the least and the last will show up on a heavenly balance sheet. Individual humans are not in the eyes of God a means to an end. Humans have to be right; to win, be it argument or material. Human success is always temporary and often a mere whitewash over filth. Human societies like China’s and Germany’s have at various times been bastions of reason arts sciences but they still descended into horror and chaos. Our own Civil War and final status of this continent’s indigenous peoples don’t look so great either. Anywhere God has let humans have control; both in reason and religion there have been and will be tragic failure. We are as the bible states like the new grass bright and green in the soft dew of the morning but burnt up by the hot wind of time. Our hope is to look to God and be humble; lest my RIGHT become my neighbor’s disaster.

163.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:22 pm

Dr. Fish continues to publish commentaries presuming that a sentient god exists and suggests that an a priori dialectic between religious and secular thought is not to be questioned. This distinction is meaningless unless one holds the by-definition irrational belief that an omniscient god outside of spacetime exists. Substitute Big Chipmunk in the Sky for god in any of these discussions and it is easy to see the absurdity. Perhaps Dr. Fish should add to his accomplishments a divinity degree so that he can more legitimately preach to the superstitious masses.

164.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:23 pm

The only problem with the secular funeral is that it is a ritual entirely in support of the bereaved, making it irrelevant to the self-centered concerns of the prospective deceased. Just so, the rational is not “missing something,” it is simply limited, in the sense that it doesn’t know everything, which is precisely the problem religion’s artificial certainties were meant to solve in the first place. Say “Hi” to your own tail.

165.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:23 pm

As an engineer, I’ve always thought Philosophy was a big put-on. “Science invents things but cannot provide the reason”. Gibberish. Gophers are messing up my lawn, so science invents gopher traps, and I use them.

166.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:23 pm

A funeral ceremony can be seen as a fitting event for relatives and friends to memorialize the dead. It can take palce in any room large enough to hold the group, and needs no invocation of another, unknown world to be effective. Perhaps we need a more profound set of secular ceremonies for the occasion, but even a mundane secular event will provide psychological closure for the attendees.

I see nothing in the arguments presented to persuade me that a bunch of mysterious mumbo-jumbo will, on the average, be more helpful to us than rationality.

167.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:23 pm

For a non believer or secular person to choose a religious setting for their rite of passage is entirely practical.Churches have considerable experience and a built in infrastructure for handling funerals and memorial services.Why not take advantage of one of the aspects of religion that performs a valuable and useful community service.Heck, they’ll even say a few nice things about you before they tuck you away.

168.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:24 pm

I’m consistently sorry every time a headline tempts me into reading Fish. He’s incredibly wrapped up in himself and his verbose style style drones on and on. Give me Maureen Dowd’s approach–Punch out a good idea and move on!. And whatever the topic, Fish comes back to an apology for religion, sometimes directly and sometimes in his selection of quotations or anecdotal experiences from others. He’s too erudite to talk about pie in the sky in so many words, but it’s in there!. I enjoy reading views contrary to my own when they are expressed with wit and brevity. Fish doesn’t respect the reader enough to condense his thoughts.

169.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:24 pm

Habermas’ conclusion that “religion is not going away” is hardly a ringing endorsement. In a utilitarian concession to reality, he seems to have accepted it as a necessary evil — and I suspect he’d dispute the “necessary” bit.

170.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:24 pm

As my favorite utterance by scientists indicates: The universe does not care what you think (or Habermas for that matter).

171.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:24 pm

The main article and most of the comments are much too complicated for a normal person to understand. I agree with the early comment which said “this is absurd.” This is the kind of op-ed piece that drives me back to the sports pages with the rest of the nonintellectuals who, as I do, have only MBAs and JD’s but not degrees in philosophy.

173.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:29 pm

Judging from this review, Habermas appears to treat “formal reason” as something one can easily pick up or put down at will. We have to notice that the entire argument, as well as Fish’s explication and comments, is carried out exclusively via the methods of formal reasoning. Perhaps Habermas is far removed from the masses who employ non-reasoning methods; he appears to have forgotten how vile the only alternatives are: the societal goals he wants to import from religion are derived from mere tradition and the accidents of history. Their injunctions to the faithful flock are made on the basis of unquestionable, unreviewable, unreasonable Authority. Nothing could be more objectionable to a society which prizes freedom.
Habermas’ problem, he tells us, is the lack of a procedure for evaluating the products of formal reasoning. It turns out that formal reasoning is entirely capable of turning its attention upon itself with fruitful results–this has been known for nearly a century now, Habermas should read some Russell Frege. Furthermore, formal reasoning has for decades now turned its attention to precisely the concerns of religion, and that project is also bearing fruit; Habermas should read some of Ramachandran’s work.
Finally, does it escape Habermas’ notice entirely that he is employing formal reason to examine formal reasoning itself? That this constitutes the antithesis of his primary claim, which he has just refuted by example? Deeply ironic…

174.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:29 pm

Aren’t we moving towards a secular society that recognizes the values that form the commonality of religion as a guide?

Isn’t there a move afoot to recognize that there seems to be a survival of the soul, and some purpose (albeit uncertain) for our being here?

Isn’t “we are all in this together” becoming a universal view?

Aren’t these sorts of commonly accepted beliefs enough to craft a moving (in the biological sense) basis from which to operate? By this I mean that the way living organisms constantly renew themselves, is the way our common purpose evolves.

I think we are slowly getting the religion out of our society’s spiritual sense of itself, spearheaded by globalization and our media, by fits and starts. And if this commentary is any indication, I think the philosophers are getting left behind.

175.

Anonymous

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

Of the several logical fallacies in the article, one is that science proliferates technology without knowing why. The why is to seek truth, even if it is self-referential, and improve human living. To ignore the global impact, for good and ill, that scientific ideas and technology have generated trivializes the discussion.
“Secular reason lacks self-awareness.” I agree, but realize that reason is still evolving; a self-awareness is flowering. Several world religions were set in stone millenia ago. Modern science has only been around for about 500 years, and just got to its feet 200 years ago.
In fact, one of the most interesting things about the interaction between religion and science is that religion can show science where the holes in its truth-seeking are, so science can work to fill them in.

176.

Dave K

Cleveland, OH

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

What a completely rationalist viewpoint is missing is free will. It has to, because if the universe is completely internally consistent and deterministic, and we are part of the universe, then we have no free will. Which of course makes all our choices meaningless, and thus renders our lives essentially meaningless.

Now, the solution to this problem, though, is not replacing a completely deterministic universe with an all-powerful, all-knowing God. Why? Because that God can override our decisions at any time, so once again we’ve absolved ourselves of any responsibility for our actions (since our decisions aren’t completely under our control).

So how do we give ourselves real free will and the responsibility that goes with it? Based on what we’ve ruled out, what’s left is a spiritual aspect to all people which operates outside of the deterministic rules of the universe, and 0 or more gods who can be defied whenever we want. Of course, if your view of religious truth is limited to the monotheistic traditions coming out of the Middle East, then you wouldn’t consider any of this to be an option.

177.

Mika Rekkinen

Fairfield, CT

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

The elements of this argument are fundamentally important but the question raised obfuscates a more primordial question: what is human nature? Irregardless of reason or religion, man’s tendencies due to his physiology, neurology, biology, etc. forces him to continue to ask and seek. That is to say even if man had proof GOD exists or that GOD does not exist, it would be immaterial to the necessity of man’s need for understanding his role in this universe. I’d go one further, even if man knew why he was chosen to be here it would still not placate him. The way man is wired is on a most basic level is essentially an evolutionary experiment that nature has chosen to play out on our species. The very fact that we share almost every trait with all other mammals is not lost to us yet our pre-frontal cortex has grown disproportionately to the rest of our clan. Thus, we are a species undergoing a traumatic change. We are aware of our demise yet cannot explain our reason for being. Thus, we create all kinds of “reasons”. Some are logical, derived from empirical evidence, others are mystical and spiritual. In the end, the answers themselves are irrelevant. Why? Simply because there is more. Man always wants more. Tell the child that the universe is infinite. The child then asks, “And what comes after that?”. Man, all grown up as an adult is no different. All this argument does is play on the finite model of a particular set of circumstances that has been handed to us through our particular history and the “set-up” it has passed on to us. Think of it this way, some people eat with their hands, some eat with chop sticks, some eat with knives and forks. At the end of the day each model works effectively and allows us to put food into our mouths. Some can argue that one set is better than the other but ultimately it’s about putting food into our mouths. We need to be fed. Our minds, too, need to be fed. The argument is not about how but that it NEEDS to happen. We will never be satiated. The rest is a comedy of manners.

178.

PetroPen

New York City

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

A spiritual journey is a personal journey.

No government or religion should be able to tell anyone how it should go, where it should lead you, or even if the individual needs to take that journey to begin with.

179.

Matt

Madison, WI

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

It is amazing to me that this question is asked like it deserves an answer? I am missing the ability to fly, but no rational person would believe that I would be able to, let alone, have some entitlement to be able to fly. Religion’s claim to authoritatively define the goals and expectations of humans is based in their bogus claims to special knowledge about Gods, spirits, or metaphysics. These claims demonstrably based in wishful thinking, imagination, and in some instances, repeatable altered mental states. Humans, like myself, suffer pain when we learn that we lack definitive answers to questions about our ultimate goals. However, this pain and emotional sense of loss are based on an irrational expectation that we are entitled to such knowledge. Instead, the modern liberal state is the perfect vehicle for creating our own goals that we define.

If we, as humans, decide to enumerate certain rights, then we can do so. If we as humans choose to fight against those who would deny those rights, then we can do so. There are no gods or angels who will do this for us. We are ultimately collectively responsible for the world we live in. Justice is what we say it is. Fortunately, our ideas of justice are based on hundreds of thousands of years of evolution as a social species. Therefore, our altruism is rooted in a more secure place than in false notions of gods, spirits or divinities.

180.

Luke C.

Washington, DC

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

This entire debate is enshrined in the first amendment of our social compact – the Constitution. That is, the Founders had this very same debate and envisioned – which makes this debate nothing new – a society where religion stayed out of policy making to some extend (through the establishment clause); but remained promoted in the personal lives of its citizens (the free exercise clause). Hence, the Founders of this great nation found the compromise sought out in this argument. America remains, even in light of the irrational noises by some of the populace, a nation that strives on “rational” policy decisions. See, e.g., the bailout, health reform, small business loans, as examples of policy based on science (for the most part). On the other hand, America also retains one of the highest church going populations in the western world. Service and charity are an integral part of the modern American character, and religion is a huge player in that department. It is amazing that Mr. Fish did not compare this philosophical debate with the obvious compromise struck by the First Amendment. With Mr. Fish’s legal background, I kept awaiting commentary as to this point. I appreciate this article, I just wish due weight would have been given to the fact that our Founders had the foresight to have this conversation over 200 years ago. The conclusion of this philosopher, although I would call it a recycled idea, can be seen in the resulting society our Founders created. Namely, us.

181.

Anonymous

New York

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

I find it interesting that many of the comments here depict religion in “scientific” terms — that is, God as performing a rational function, such as “Super Cop,” comfort to the vulnerable, etc. It seems to me they are displaying exactly the kind of narrow view that the author describes, and which he (in my view, persuasively) thinks is limiting; when you approach the world and all things in it, including religion and faith, from an absolutely scientific framework (the reason for all things may be deduced by hypothesis and experiment), you tend to reduce its meaning to rational, or provable, theories. These scientific truths may be true, but they are not necessarily the WHOLE truth. Science and rationality is a self-limiting structure (we all learned the scientific method in grade school), so even if science will someday reveal a “religion gene” or explain faith to the satisfaction of some, it will fail to provide an adequate response to religious/spiritual truth, which is derived from an altogether different process. Unless you have already accepted science–on faith–as capable of providing all of the answers, it won’t do all the work. This is why religions beseech people to “open their hearts,” and not their minds.

182.

Bayou Houma

Boston

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

To simplify, Plato elucidated this paradox of religious inspiration as an essential basis of rationality: Plato’s Poet creates language(yes, “the,” “and,” “or,” all the nouns, verbs, and adverbs, metaphors, and all the parts of our speech by which we communicate to create social groups) and Plato’s philosopher creates the rational use of our language. Northrop Frye’s study of the Bible, “The Bible as literature,” demonstrated how people first used invented language fraught with superstitions, then as rational descriptive communication, analytical abstractions, and inspired language of art and spirituality. But all language is a product of someone’s imagination, and all language has a definite time-bound shelf life, before the language becomes discarded for a new poet’s creative expressions, a new terminology to replace obsolete and archaic words and manner of thinking. Americans, for instance, still have not a language imagined to express the common humanity of its diverse racial makeup. The federal government’s census still categorizes people by obsolete black and white absolute categories when race has always been a social construct in the minds of racist European Americans who invented those categories. It makes far more sense for the census to ask people to simply name their family’s national origins, whether they are Native to this country, immigrant, and have a gender preference. That would eliminate the absurd choice for people who have white and black origins, like President Obama, from having to categorize himself under the fictional racial category exclusively as an “African American, black or Negro,” when his mother was none of those categories.

183.

Mr. K

Rockton, IL

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

Euripides’ final play, “The Bacchae,” engages all of these questions in a more dynamic and interesting manner than either Habermas or Fish. Read it and you will not need to read Habermas and Company (including Fish on Habermas).

184.

mbrensilver

Malibu, CA

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

The very notion that religion can be one discussant in a pluralistic dialogue is silly as religion is a discourse that by it’s definition rules out the possibility of reconciliation.

And um, doesn’t Habermas live in, ummm, Europe? Are there not countries that largely eschew religious stories yet feature far fewer of the problems that Fish suggests religion helps solve? And given that the pope keeps making the front page of The Times, we might pause to consider the costs of religion when it’s not governed by secular institutions behold to “reason” and “laws.”

185.

Dr.F.

NYC, currently traveling

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

#5 is absolutely right but understates the case:

“The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another. In the face of these injustices, a reason “decoupled from worldviews” does not, Habermas laments, have “sufficient strength to awaken, and to keep awake, in the minds of secular subjects, an awareness of the violations of solidarity throughout the world, an awareness of what is missing, of what cries out to heaven.”

The massacres in Rwanda, tragedies in Darfur, etc. cannot exactly be laid at the feet of secular Liberal States. The Israeli – Palestinian Conflict ? G.W Bush and his Conservative allies invoked the name of God all the time in justifying our invasion of Iraq. As Bob Dylan wisely noted , the participants in most wars fight each other , in no small measure, because each side believes “God is on our side”.

186.

WmC

Bokeelia, FL

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

Seems to me the main thrust of Fish’s argument is that a moral/ethical system cannot be derived rationally; it must be revealed from a supernatural source. This proposition was quite thoroughly (and humoursly) discredited in Plato’s dialogue “Euthryphro.”

If that was not the intended main take-away from Prof. Fish’s essay, what, pray tell, was? And why should a reader be obliged to speculate? Is it perhaps that vague assertions are harder to refute than clear ones?

187.

Dan Wylie-Sears

Boston

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

“in the context of full-bodied secularism, there would seem to be nothing to pass on to, and therefore no reason for anything like a funeral”

That is just silly. My father died recently, and I care about the feelings of my brothers, in-laws, and nieces. I’m alive now, and I care now about the feelings my surviving family members will have after I die. In other words, I attend funerals and I want to have a funeral. That doesn’t mean I believe in a God or, for that matter, in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I also don’t believe in talking bears or pigs that build houses, but I still tell the stories to my kids. It’s fiction. It has a role to play, but that role doesn’t involve believing that it’s true.

188.

Joseph Locascio

Boston, MA

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

I believe we should strive for our own happiness and physical well-being and that of all other people, and, as much as possible, that of all other sentient life on the planet, using reason as our fundamental tool. We should strive for that simply because we want it for its own sake. The probably nonexistent “supernatural” realm, sky fairies, and voodoo rituals have nothing to do with it.

189.

rockman

northern hemisphere

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

well fish knows how to stir the postmodern pot, old habermas, likes to take my philosophy and tell me what is it implies and or where it is fundamentally inconsistent. if i’m going to listen to a screw loose german i prefer heidegger but talk about baggage. habermas is like the old lady thats dying. she gets scared, really scared and jesus starts to look pretty good. go off to a place that is wonderful full of all your old dead friends. don’t let me confuse the issue, replace jesus with reason to live or reason why i exist and you have the fundamental question most philosophers try to answer. habermas is a marxist and ends up making society and the individuals relationship to that society the paramount goal of any ethical behavior and more exactly, the definition of ethical. take these words i have written, you think they project the identity of an individual. did i make any of these words up, did i create anything. these words exist outside of me, and more importantly are preconfigured into meaning by their rules. take walter benjamins notion of the aesthetic original in the age of mechanical reproduction and you have the dilemma of trying to be original in a world of structured meaning that prefabricates ever possibility you can conceive of. you can be nothing more than the sum of a fiction. i always think of nietzsche when i run into a marxist but he has such a horrible reputation but he addressed the idea of existing outside preconceived rules of society, building an ethical society not necessitated by rules just handed down generation after generation. kind of like my notion of an individual being nothing more than a extended linguistic trope or fiction. somebody way up in the comments said something snarky about living in the dark ages ect obviously palin is over their heads but habermas does forget the political consequences of using religion to interject meaning into devoid existential modern life. what i mean is religion has always been used as a political tool wrapped into a seemingly altruistic humanistic guise. in fact that would be a good topic for fish next time deconstruct religion, is it ethical, mystical, political. what is it. but sadly fish has too much to fry and his next book seems an opus on secondary meanings to the beverly hillbillies.was granny an atheist, was jethro a neo marixist, what about old man clampett and ellie mae. was there something going on there, hillbillies being hillbillies. all i can say is if you read all of fish and burrowed this far down into the comments section, god help you, find a life or like me i’m gonna get something to eat.

190.

Ollie Bland

Omaha NE

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

The idea that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot, etc, is an outgrowth of “secular reason” is an absurdist fantasy.

191.

Tim

Basingstoke, UK

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

What do you mean that the enlightenment has no means of introspection? The enlightenment practically is introspection.
In fact, the enlightenment has been more subtly manipulated by religion than many people give realise. Some of the enlightenments structures need updating and/or defending from religion, that’s all.

192.

Doug M.

CA

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

Sigh… yet another person who has supposedly thought about this a lot, but seems to not grasp any alternatives other than meaningless-rationality and religion. Religions obviously want us to believe that they are the only source of meaning, but true meaning doesn’t come from some institution telling us what matters, but from within. The world would be better served if people like Habermas (and Stanley is sometimes guilty of this too) stopped trying to push this caricature of the non-religious as lacking in meaning or sense of higher purpose or sense of place in the world; there are such people, but vastly more who simply don’t need a religion to give these things to them.

193.

Silas D.

New York, NY

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

“…in Habermas’s bargain ‘reason addresses demands to the religious communities’ but ‘there is no mention of demands from the opposite direction.’ ”

Umm, it’s not a negotiation. For adherents of religious thought to demand a more prominent place for it in social and political discourse on this basis is to demean the very religion being promoted.

Moreover, it is not at all clear that religion is shortchanged in this deal. Reason/Enlightenment ideas have demonstrated an aptitude to provide for stable political structures. Why would religion want to dabble in bureacracy? This it a bad idea for citizens (we had religious governments for hundreds of years and they didn’t work out too well); it is also a bad idea for religion. It would distract religion from its proper duty in the care and guidance of souls, and hinder religion’s ability to direct “morally guided collective action.”

194.

Tom W.

Chicago

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

I consider Religion, rather, as an anchor, holding back the ability of secular reason to move on with the business of defining ultimate goals. The world can indeed come together, as exemplified in Haiti, and as was exemplified just after 9/11, before we engaged in our “Holy WAr’ with Islam. I’ll take science every time, and stumble forward for awhile.

195.

Brooklyn Boy

New York

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

Sorry, Dr. Fish.
I still prefer a world view based on reality rather than a relationship with an imaginary man in the sky.

196.

Jason

Georgetown, TX

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

And you mean:
– that we, humans, are fond of rituals, particularly when we face dead,
– that religious rituals play that role, some times beautifully.
And that’s about it. The rest is construction.

197.

currus

Universal City, Texas

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

One has to wonder what possessed the professor to come up with this balderdash. Mr. Hussong (post #21) gets it right. Terrible waste of time to put this in electrons.

198.

mezmo55

Salt Lake

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

When did we get to ‘post secularism’…..I didn’t get that memo. Going back to the tyranny of religion? Ooh boy!

199.

Jack Jersawitz

Atlanta, Georgia

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

Reason certainly knows what is missing making this an absurd argument.

What is missing is any evidence that anything (Religion and God) exists except what reason addresses, the nature and process of this concrete, material universe, which exists outside us, despite us, even despite our consciousness of its existence.

What is missing is much of the data of that universe which, because we are such late comers, we will never know all of.

j.

200.

Charvak

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

“Universalistic egalitarianism in law and morality” continues to be a powerful ideal for rationalists. Sure, “the catastrophes of the twentieth century” have compelled some rationalists to re-examine the foundations of their world-view; but seen against the backdrop of centuries of religious wars and technological inertia, few rationalists would want to resubmit themselves to the old “truths of faith.” The “achieved consensus” of rationalism may be far from perfect; but that is no argument to readmit what is a proven failure. Religion is dead. Get used to it.

201.

lee walker

oakland

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

randommuser,
My observations are that the purpose of religion is to teach people how to make prayers come true, not to decide “God” exists. Religions have successfully dominated human history because people think (know?) that following religious teachings helped make their prayers come true.

The personal accounts of this are overwhelming. The story of Jesus is more about the advantages of being good to others than about his parentage. People who are exceedingly good/loving can achieve miracles, and the majority of humans believe this or else they would not be religious.

202.

Gareth Harris

Socorro, NM

April 13th, 2010

12:30 pm

This whole argument sounds like someone is still looking for external authority.
Too much sophistry here. Time to face reality.

Religion is a contagious mental disease that humans are susceptible to, like tuberculosis or malaria.
As for me as I get older and lose my teeth, I am returning to the tooth fairy.

Life has the meaning we give it – no more – no less. The meaning comes from us as in:

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

203.

Mohamed

USA

April 13th, 2010

12:31 pm

Secular reason means everybody is living with their own set of moralities. That works fine when there is no tension and the environment is stable. Introduce some tension and instability and all the veneer of civility falls apart. Western love affair with secular reasoning is very cleaver. They let the Church and State, and corporations to do their dirty work and claim them to be free of any prejudices. But when it comes to wars and dirty dealing with natural resources of the other countries they just remain silent and enjoy the good life. Enlightenment did not stop Europe from colonialism and post colonial economic opportunism around the world. The benefit of secular reasoning just academic without any proven real life consequences.

204.

Paul

Queens

April 13th, 2010

12:31 pm

“in the context of full-bodied secularism, there would seem to be nothing to pass on to, and therefore no reason for anything like a funeral. ”
The funeral has nothing to do with someone’s passing on to another world. It’s for the people who knew and cared about the person to get together and remember him/her. And there are solid, rational reasons for long-term collective goals that have nothing to do with religion… people care about their children, grandchildren, etc. Irrational “reasons” don’t need to be religious, either. Religion should fade away… there’s no good purpose for it. It’s much more trouble than it’s worth.

205.

Dick Mulliken

Jefferson, NY

April 13th, 2010

12:32 pm

This calls to mind Aristotle’s and Plato’s dislike of the rhetors and the sophists, whom they felt were playing dirty pool with logic and reason, a line of thought that survives in analytical philosophy. For me, it’s a case of two languages: one logical and the other affective. As A.J. Ayer puts it “Emotive language is about nothing”. Precisely. It is not about things. It is, if you will, about the glory of daffodils and the majesty of the night sky. This is a roundabout way of saying that religion has no lock on the spiritual. I treasure my sense of wonder and awe, but find it most amply developed in classical and Renaissance humanism. Give me Seneca over Paul any day, Cicero over Augustine. I happen to church Methodist. One day over lunch, my pastor told me how delighted he was to have some atheists in the congregation, not to convert but to share the worship. That’s enough.

206.

GAM

Winnipeg and Medellin

April 13th, 2010

12:33 pm

Habermas’ work is so full of inaccurate nonsense that it could have been written by one of the Vatican’s apologists. A startling example of a philosopher who has no use for critical thinking. A great example of someone educated beyond his intelligence. His description of liberalism is so wrong-headed that it boggles the mind. Has he never read John Locke or John Stuart Mill?

Science and religion; Now there is a marriage made in heaven.

207.

Steve Crisp

Raleigh, NC

April 13th, 2010

12:34 pm

The biggest problem with religion is that it fails to acknowledge much of science, rather turning in favor of bizarre, out-of-context readings of their religious texts.

The biggest problem with secularism is that it fails to acknowledge that God does exist as the creator and sustainer of all life via the laws He established for that purpose.

Yet one thing I have never been able to get a handle on is how many secularists will decry the existence of God based on His justice — His intent to punish evil — using tragedy as consequences for actions opposed to His will. They will, however, worship the very nature of the universe, much of which is out to kill him in rather brutish and violent ways. I suppose, for them, death via non-causal accidents is a perfectly fine way to assume room temperature. At least that view saves them from the potential individual responsibility for their own actions.

208.

Rich

Connecticut

April 13th, 2010

12:34 pm

We’ll see how well the underlying existential fear which props up religion survives when human lifespan is extended so far that individuals outlive fear of death or artificial intelligences begins to take their place in the human social order. Arguing for the continuation of irrationality as a balm against the fear of death only works until death loses its grip, then all bets are off…

209.

Jim

Maryland

April 13th, 2010

12:34 pm

This is an old song in Germany. Reason’s employment of religion for the motivation of the state is called Statism, or National Socialism. Stalin also tried being nice to the Russian Orthodox Church during WWII. When one considers the lives lost to socialisms of the 20th century (Soviets 15 million, Nazis 10 million, Mao’s Cultural Revolution 7 million, Khmer Rouge 2 million); it is a wonder that we educated Westerners spend so much time worrying about fundamentalisms.

210.

LTNYT55

Boston, MA

April 13th, 2010

12:35 pm

There is nothing missing from “reason”, but perhaps something missing from the religious person’s view of reason.

the basic issue is that people are “cognitive misers”. who has time to think through the history of humanity and what we as a species have learned over time about what it means to be human and share the planet with others — at times interdependent and at other times independent (and even isolated). If we can entrust someone else with all the rigmarole of thinking about “‘the big picture” so we can focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over our heads, that works for most people. People also have a need to feel connected to other humans.

For many, religion serves both these functions, and to the extent to which it continues to, will always have a role to play. For others, they are able to have these needs met in other ways, so be it. For the most part, people do what works for them and we have to accept that what works is going to differ for different people and for different situations. Religious communities might work for someone at some point in his/her life and not at others. so be it. It’s not a neither nor situation, secular or religious. they need not be in competition.

The greatest challenge with religion, is a third element of human nature: humans are volitional. We can choose right or wrong, left or right, but the choice is ours. Too often, religious communities overly simplify the world of choice for those among us who are inclined toward more cognitive engagement in their everyday lives. This can be exemplified by even the most basic choice: one must choose to believe in what they believe in and if one chooses otherwise, that’s pretty much the end of the fulfillment of the first need, the need to feel connected with other humans — you’re cast off as an outsider, non-believer, threat to their community. bullocks. who needs it.

Too often religion is used to carve society up into ingroups and outgroups, you’re either one of us, or you’re not. And contrary to the true nature of religion — which should be on a larger picture of connecting us all through some higher power — it’s implementation runs counter to fulfillment of basic human needs. at least for some people.

in my view, the secular world there is a place for religion — case in point, declaration of independence and ability to design a country where they should be able to co-exist, though it seems there is a constant (particularly recently) battle against this co-existence from the religious, that they would prefer this country not have been founded as one where secular and religious coexist and instead would prefer us all live out the usual history of religious communities battling each other for ultimate control/authority over the people. blah blah blah.

the real question is the mirror view, is there a place for the secular in the world of the religious. can they come to terms with how to co-exist with those who choose differently, and choose in ways that do no harm to others and in ways that contribute to the common good of all people.

in the end, the need to be connected to other humans, to be able to succeed in life (where success is “living”, providing food shelter, etc), and to act of one’s own volition will be fulfilled in different ways for different people and will never be forced into a one size fits all. the best system of connecting humans together is one that can tolerate fluctuations in how these needs are fulfilled.

211.

Betsy Herring

Edmond, Oklahoma

April 13th, 2010

12:35 pm

The whole problem with relying on religion of any kind is the fact that it was promulgated on the efforts of “men” alone and has always discounted the major half of the population — women. Without a feminine point of view the cuf is only half full. And, furthermore, women i.n the 2lst century are still denied participation in this momentous thought process. Give me rationality any day of the week.

212.

Matt R

Colorado

April 13th, 2010

12:38 pm

This is too deep for me. It just seems this discussion is akin to describing beauty using math. It doesn’t work very well. The real question seems to be why religion? Those that dislike religion seem to get hung up on its dark side, but there’s also a good side. Replace the word God with “being selfless” and it makes it easier for those that want a rational description. So, how do you teach being selfless? The philosophers stand in front of the chalk board and talk while the students sleep, while religion encourages people to do good.

213.

Thom Woodard

Los Angeles, CA

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Honestly, I’m not sure of the problem that you are outlining here. The only concrete example that seems to be an issue is that sometimes non-religous people want to have religious funerals. I think that’s fine. We also like to celebrate Christmas too. Is this evidence that atheists are missing something from our ideology? I think religous people would like to think so, and perhaps this Habermas guy is on their side. The fact that non-religious people do these things seems to suggest that religon has filled a niche in human society for a long time. Now that a large amount of people are bravely living their lives without religion, we are finding new ways of doing things while still clinging to some useful traditions like funerals and Christmas. These actions are to be expected from people who are finding new ways to live and they are not a comment on the “truth” of religion.

214.

supersleuth2

Grand Island, NY

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Does Reason Know What It is Missing?
Is it really the question of, Reason or Belief?
Belief, and faith in that belief, are constructs of our minds based on what we are taught, what we experience, our reasoning, our insights, and our strong emotional ties. All of these elements must be incorporated into the idea of belief.
The part of emotion is enhanced through group loyalty and ritual.
We all need to have faith in our beliefs.
The problem comes from how our beliefs interpret reality, scientific reality, real situations, threats to our group and ourselves.
Agnosticism and no belief in God at all, are still beliefs, similar in ways to that of the great religions.
Is belief in God, also, a construct of the mind?
Do the complexities of our brain make it possible to entertain the idea of god, many gods, or one God?
What are the realities with which we check or test our beliefs?
Reason is a tool that can be used, to both affirm a belief in God or disavow a belief God.

We may experience a unique exhilleration, when the emotional aspect of belief, or religion is enhanced; done with music, group ritual, prayer, memorization and repitition of writings, literature, art, archetecture, etc.
That exhileration may be further strengthened, when our family, community, national and other group loyalties are invoked,
Life experiences also serve to strengthen our beliefs.
We learn and devleop belief by living through life changes such as: birth, joining a group, puberty, love,marriage, the births and raising of children, vocational sucess or failure, and the deaths of our loved ones, as well as contemplation of our own death
Life experiences can be used to strengthen group solidarity in the face of adversity, pain, failures, personal and group threats, attacks, war, and natural disasters.
Such threats can be used to require us to suspend or ignore our rational judgement with the Reality of all the available facts.
It is a Human Condition with which we are still learning to cope.
The challenge of human-kind is to come to terms with nature, reality, our beliefs, and our welfare on a pesronal, group, national and international level.
The question is: What is the role of Belief or of Reality in our thinking?

215.

owen

columbia sc

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

You almost had me with “…religion is not going away”. But then I remembered that evil is not going away either, but that doesn’t mean we must embrace it. I agree with several other posters that reason and science actually are perfectly capable of going it alone. All humans share natural inclinations toward good (and an ability to resist these inclinations). The elderly can be forgiven for turning toward religion for comfort and nostalgia as they approach the end of their lives, but if that’s all it amounts to; comfort and nostalgia, which are pefectly harmless.

216.

AstraEsq

Albany NY

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

There are times when it helps to turn to our poets. Here, Rilke’s insight that some questions must be lived rather than answered: “Try to love the questions themselves. … Live the questions now. Perhaps, someday far in the future, you will gradually live your way into the answer.” Mitchell, Stephen, trans., Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. (NY: Vintage,1986).

217.

Lowell D. Thompson

Chicago

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Prof. Fish,

It’s amazing to me how many words you (and other so-called “deep thinkers”) use to say nothing. To my merely mortal mind, at least, all you’ve done in this article is confuse the other “deep thinkers” convoluted point

Maybe I can help.

I consider myself a kinda “Sidewalk Socrates”, using common sense and basic reasoning available to most fairly intelligent people to solve seemingly unsolvable problems (at least “unsolvable” to people who are paid by the hour to keep trying to solve them).

I came up with this this morning while walking to Starbucks:

“In the end, It all comes down to this.

Do you put your faith in God, who you haven’t seen? Or man, who you have?

When you think about it like that, it’s a no-brainer. Since you already know the limits of all humans, your only hope is God.”

That’s the reason the science of the smartest but fallible man can never fully replace the promise of an infallible God. Plus churches have better music, more impressive architecture and more inspiring art and rituals than any science lab.

How’s that?

http://buythecover.com

218.

kevin o’brien chang

jamaica

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. Pascal

219.

Steven Pine

New York

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

By and large humans are missing humanity, or, at least, the ability to fully imagine something besides their individual selves or, occasionally, close family and friends.

220.

MikeGordon2

Maryland

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Fish (Habermas) say that “The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another.” But history shows that such injustices have
been inflicted by groups with religious worldviews and secular world views alike. Correlation is not causation, but here there’s not even a correlation. To explain cruelty by individuals, groups, or nations, you need to look again.

221.

Jonathan Mann

Redwood City, CA

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Stanley Fish is a man who takes Sarah Palin seriously. Need I say more?

222.

Frank K.

New York

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

What is often lacking, I conclude, is the belief in a personal god.

223.

daldridge1

physa

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Beyond very local interactions between human beings, there is no answer to man’s capacity for the exploitation of others in either religion or rationalism as long as we are divided into “tribes.”

224.

Bob M

Vancouver

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Steve from NJ says: “A belief in God brings the dialogue of conscience between them [the religious] and God, not them and the passing opinions of the world.” At least he is sensible enough to attribute this dialogue to the belief and not to God. Because it is and only can be a belief, as a child believes in the tooth fairy. But any interested layperson who studies the evolution of religious thought (Christianity from Judaism, Christianity into Constantine’s emperial state religion, the Reformation) soon realizes that religious doctrine itself is no more than “the passing opinions of the world.”

225.

Eric Heath

Stanford University

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

The taxonomy of the human animal is vastly diverse, like that of nearly any species on the planet. So, of course, “religion” isn’t going away, anymore than is reason, intelligence, stupidity, pathology or any of the other mythic abstractions we create to rationalize our responses to our fears and hopes. And “politics” is the great bubbling pot where all this stuff goes together. It will always be in the interests of both the species and its individual members to keep the pot from boiling over. The problem in all this bubbling mass is fear, anger and self-hatred. Religion and ideologies in general have been the depository points for these social pathologies throughout history. And, of course, “Reason” can become as much an ideology or religion as any other abstraction, and act as a cloak for our obsessions. So Dr. Fish, part of Thinking Again should always be looking at how we in fact live and behave, and not just Thinking about Thinking, which can easily become an endless recycling of the usual abstractions.

226.

Keystoneman

Canada

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Around and around we go. It was ever thus. Religion(s) takes its life from age-old questions that are impossible to answer: What’s behind the origin of life? What, if any, is the mandate imposed on human beings? Is there eternal life? If so, how is it gained or does it come automatically? The questions are endless and as long as scientific answers are not available, people will continue to use faith to “fill in the blanks,” as it were. It’s just the way it is. It’s in our DNA. Scientific reason has bestowed much on humanity,from the formulation of human rights to the discovery of germs, but it has its limits. Let’s call it a draw. There’s room for both reason and faith but it takes humility on both sides to recognize that fact. Supporters of reason must stop sneering at people of faith(they are not going away) and people of faith,especially their leaders, must put a stop to their holier-than-thou and coercive rules that are imposed on the faithful. Let people think freely without fear.

227.

Dail

Eastpoint, FL

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Michael Reder says: “Once they [religions] have performed this service [helping to overcome social disruptions] they go back in their box and don’t trouble us with uncomfortable cosmic demands.” Alas, I fear it is not religion which presents us with “uncomfortable cosmic demands” today, but science itself.

228.

Rick

Hollis

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

When did religion supply this “something missing”? It may have accomplished that end for a few but there is no evidence that there has ever been a collective morality, perhaps only a collective hegemony that used religion for a hammer and morality for an anvil. It is religion that has been exposed as having “something missing”: logic and reason. And Pascal redefined faith as the best hand to hold in the eschatolgical poker game, who can build a value system on that? Fish, I guess.

229.

M Viator

Washington, DC

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Perhaps the more serious question for Habermas is the enduring write off of all religions as some hold back to austerity. I find the atheism of Hichens and Dawkins as limiting as I find the Christianity of Falwell or James Dobson. They are, and continue to be, problematic in their expression because they are both incarnations of fundamentalism.

Professor Fish presents the two sides as though it were nothing more than the two poles. I dare say even a casual review of religious people will yield authentically religious expressions of rationalism and dedication to an ‘objective procedure,’ as it were. In that sense, Habermas has caricatured both parties by their detractor’s scripts.

I think a real problem continues to be education, a word not once mentioned in all this scholarly blather, yet essential to the “keys to the kingdom” (forgive the pun). The individual must require more than a brief understanding of rhetoric and critical thinking to hope to understand the high Enlightenment’s rational processes. For that matter, fundamentalism requires little to no effort for effective and affective buy in. The theology is so visceral, it’s archaic.

Until we solve this problem, the fruits of the Enlightenment will forever be hamstrung by fundamentalist religious expression. You cannot create a fool and then decry foolery in the world, to quote Thomas Moore.

One of the primary thrusts in granting choice is to grant education. Habermas has said nothing to account for the fact that, until this is truly implemented, who can say that the principles of the Enlightenment have no herd motivational qualities. For that matter, why capitulate to Fundamentalism, an easy answer to move a herd, but so unengaged in the higher faculties as to provoke barbarism and violence?

Until we educate our people, I think this conversation is frivolous. I blame the Academics for FAILING to make use of their great knowledge. Any idiot will tell you that higher education is a misnomer: you are there to give cover to an academic with no interest in teaching, no ability at it, or worse, no understanding of how to do it. We hold our primary and secondary educators to this immense grindstone, and then magically take a de-regulated approach with higher education — specifically the professors.

This whole conversation between the immensely educated is like a modern tower of babel. No one understands each other (as they are simply talking *past* each other), and the people outside simply scratch their heads and move on. The trenches are dug so deep, even the supposed scholars are nothing more than ideological fundamentalists that work in absolutes.

I find this lack of emphasis on education — and a seeming blindness to its corrosive effects on the best of solutions (Enlightenment principles) — to be discouraging.

230.

R Navas

Bellingham, WA

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Oddly enough, world views handed down for generations can contain substantial empirically tests knowledge. To the degree that holding those views gave a culture some sort of advantage means that, at least under the circumstances which had prevailed, those views where approximately good ideas. Those views may not be reasoned, but then what is reason if not largely a strategically successful means of viewing the world?

231.

Joe

Burnaby, BC

April 13th, 2010

12:40 pm

Humanity made a mistake when it elevated the gods to be the level of The God. We need the fiction of mortal gods to make us see ourselves in our higher aspirations.

232.

JaeHoon

Cambridge, MA

April 13th, 2010

1:04 pm

Though comment #1 is a traditional defense of secular ‘goodness’ it overlooks the fact that the communities that aided in Haiti – and the existing charities that were present in the country – are religious. Even when a secular nation-state contributed, that was motivated for the most part by religious individuals working quietly under the cover of their official capacity. Should people like Hitchens progress further in their aims for society, we will learn how little can be accomplished by people of a disagreeable nature like Hitchens himself.

233.

Rich Monk

San Diego, CA.

April 13th, 2010

1:04 pm

Religion is a curable sickness of the mind!

Today on planet Earth a million people will die, and not one of them will receive the miracle of life from any fictionally invented God!

Religious books, the Bible, the Koran, the Tora are no more than comic books for the weak, the power hungry and the insane.

234.

five

mn

April 13th, 2010

1:04 pm

This is an old argument between science/reason and religion. Some individuals will always need religion to cope with life’s little details. Both must exist together. Stop arguing for dominance. Isn’t it surprising that as we speak, France is trying to keep Europe together during the Greek financial problems and Germany is trying to pull away. The comments above are filling in important details that Fish and Habermas want to ignore. Read on!

235.

Hardkandy

NYC

April 13th, 2010

1:04 pm

Religion as a supplier of morality has obviously failed because such morality is limited. Those who use religion to promote ethical behavior do so because they have not achieved a higher form of knowledge. Only through reason and knowledge can ethos that regulates behavior toward other human beings be found, because truth is found in physiology. Have you not read or understood Spinoza’s Ethics ?

236.

wdef

new Jersey

April 13th, 2010

1:18 pm

The problem with religious and reason is, to quote that eminent philosopher Dirty Harry “man’s gotta know his limitations”. The problem with both religion and reason is they often don’t recognize their limits, and rather then acknowledging them, try to bull their way through and in more then a few cases, claim universal authority, whether it be on scripture or church teachings.

More importantly, I think that where both sides fail is when they fail to acknowledge that they need each other, that reason and religion should depend on each other and don’t. Does that mean science should listen to biblical fundamentalists and try to prove the earth is 6000 years old? No, rather the opposite, that religion should be using reason as one of its tools to try and discern what it is we are here for, what the divine (or whatever you call it) wants. Aquinas said that faith without reason is meaningless (or some such), and he was right. Religion should use reason to look at the underpinnings of their faith, things like scripture, and say “but what does reason tell me? If I am claiming a piece of scripture is literal truth, what does reason tell me about the scripture itself? Was it dropped out of the sky, or written by men? Was it written by one person? Do we even know what it actually said after thousands of years of bad copies, translations,etc?”.

Likewise, to quote Michael Crichton, science (usually used as the embodiment of reason), should be asking itself not only can they do something, but why they should do it and more importantly, should they be doing it? Likewise, the world of reason has to admit tha t the world is not necessarily rational, that especially human beings are not rational, that with all the attempts to define it logically and rationally there are things we cannot explain (any good therapist or psychiatrist would tell you that I suspect), that there is a layer beyond that that cannot be handled by rationality or reason alone.

Obviously, many of both the religious and the ‘rational’ side of things realize this, but with the growth of fundamentalism and with traditional religious beliefs often clashing with what rational thought is telling us (for example, that people being gay is part of the natural order, that rational evidence shows it is part of the natural world and is not a moral question, but a scientific one), there is still a wide gap. Likewise, there are those who still think science can answer everything or get arrogant when someone challenges conventional wisdom in science and medicine (want to see dogmatism at work? Read about it in medicine, where the person who proposed angiostasis for treating tumors was almost thrown out the door, where the doctor who proposed ulcers were caused by bacteria or the researcher who came up with the homocysteine cause for heart disease, were absolutely ripped by the medical establishment (and all three have been vindicated in different levels).

One thought on rationality “The consequences of this “motivational weakness” can be seen all around us in the massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another. ” Ubfortunately, what the writer left out is religion has the same weakness, that despite its claims of moral superiority and such, religion has caused these massive injustices as well, ranging from the persecution of non believers, to the way women and gays have been treated, to the horrors of the holocaust that had as its underpinnings several thousands of years of demonization at the hands of the very religions claiming moral superiority……

237.

Emrys Westacott

Alfred, NY

April 13th, 2010

1:19 pm

Stanley Fish says “liberal rationality is committed to pluralism and cannot affirm the absolute rightness of anything except its own (empty) proceduralism.” But affirming the “absolute rightness” of our beliefs is precisely the sort of dogmatism characteristic of religion that we should leave behind. We don’t need it. And without it, liberal rationality does not need be empty or formalistic. We can set ourselves the goal of moving toward a world in which unnecessary suffering is minimized and where most people live interesting, fulfilling lives, enjoying the security of basic rights, opportunities for pursuing their chosen goals, plenty of leisure, diverse pleasures, and the well-being that comes from being belonging to a vibrant culture and a supportive community. This is a goal I expect Fish and Habermas endorse. The fact that it’s superiority over other goals can’t be be given an absolute proof doesn’t mean it is empty, arbitrary, or lacks motivating power.

238.

F

Princeton, NJ

April 13th, 2010

1:29 pm

Secularism appears to have a problem if you try to approach it as a religion. It does not provide answers to moral questions, and does not tell us what choices to make. But that is exactly the point. Perhaps the main value held by a true secularist is the value of humility, of knowing that choices are rarely clear cut and as such should be taken with care, in a delibrate and legitimate matter (hence the importance of procedures in the liberal state). The moral underpinnings come from the notion that solidarity and love for the others are its own rewards, and that we live happier, fuller lifes once we acknowledge that.

In fact, the secularist mentality is essentially pragmatic, as described so well by Stan Fish himeslf:
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com…

239.

HIGHLIGHT (what’s this?)

JBM

Washington

April 13th, 2010

1:41 pm

As a primatologist, I have witnessed many chimpanzee “funerals” (or wakes, to be more precise). These informal gatherings are commonplace when a member of the group dies. Family and friends gather around the body, they touch and stroke the deceased, and some individuals burst out in emotional reactions. Everyone has a chance to be with the body. My guess is that it serves an important emotional function, just as it does in humans – a chance to come to terms with the finality of a loved one’s death.

Atheist funerals may seem awkward to Habermas (and Fish), but they most likely predate us by millions of years. Once again, religion has hijacked an existing ritual, and it is mistaken by the religious as the source.

240.

David

North Carolina

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

I prefer to approach this from a planetary survival perspective.

A new axial age is beginning. Many of the archetypal symbols, religious and other, grounded at the deepest level of human consciousness, symbols that propelled humans over the generations to think and to act are being challenged. Those found to be antithetical to human survival are being rooted out of the collective psyche.

Although it may be too late to reverse many of the ongoing adverse ecological forces already set in motion, the human species in time will adjust. They will finally understand the pain they have brought upon themselves and other species, a pain that will not go away. A harsh lesson will be learned, a lesson enabling them to learn how to exist in consonance with the planet’s natural rhythm.

There will arise a secular humanism grounded on a deeper understanding of the human condition than that which exists today among those who define themselves as “secular humanists.” It will center on a human awareness of its higher purpose. This will lead to a more participatory and spiritually informed vision of the planet and the role of humans on it. There will occur a metamorphosis of the human mind far surpassing other such changes in human history. Humans will see themselves as a form of intelligence able to participate in their own unfolding future. The concept of ‘religion’ will have continued its evolution from animism, through polytheism and monotheism, to some new form of understanding that people of the current era might not even recognize. Religious belief will embody a growing understanding of humanity’s place in the universe.

Humans on a grand scale will seek to live their lives far differently from the way they live them today. They will readily accept behaviors within a narrow band of rules designed to check their self destructive primitive Freudian animalistic impulses. The drives that are the worst parts of their nature and have led to consumptive abuse of the planet—and each other, will over the millennia through evolutionary adjustment disappear.

David Anderson
http://www.InquiryAbraham.com

241.

Babe Ruth

Atlanta

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

I’m suspecting Fish and NYT present such articles as homage to their faith based customers to demonstrate their consideration and value of their religious beliefs despite the many contrary views held by many of their secular based readership. But given those with contrary views to Fish and Habermas, it’s like tossing an easy pitch without credible defense so it can’t just be slammed out of the park. None the less, it was interesting to read Fish’s and Habermas’s ideas along with the numerous comments. In this case the responses were more fun than the article itself. So many grandslams in a single game. Fish’s ERA really took a beating today.

242.

Ken

Portland, OR

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

A deeply flawed essay, to put it mildly. To address just one of the shoddy arguments contained in it, Dr. Fish suggests that lack of religion is the cause of the “massive injustices nations and tribes inflict on one another.” Last time I check, many, if not most, of those massive injustices were motivated by, or at least legitimized by, religion. After all, if you are in sole possession of the truth, and are convinced that God is on your side, what’s to prevent you slaughtering those who hold different beliefs – their heresy is proof that they are not favored by God, so getting rid of them, you are doing his work.

In fairness to religion, plenty of mass murder has gone on in the name of non-religious ideologies, and I don’t think religion is really the underlying cause of violence and war–but it can add fuel to the fire the way almost nothing else can.

I can understand the appeal of religion on a personal level – while I am now an atheist, I spent a large part of my life as a member of 2 mainline Protestant denominations, and derived personal benefit from doing so.

As far a means of creating a just society and advancing the human race, I’ll stick with liberal rationalism, thank you very much.

243.

Robert

Montauk

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

So, an oceanographer is incomplete as a human being until she asks the question: What would Poseidon do?

As a sidebar: the claim that humanity is incomplete unless it joins cults led by irrational, sanctimonious hypocrites is undercut by our real world experience.

244.

Doug

Denmark

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Habermas in a newspaper blog, there is an interesting idea. The impression one gets is that Habermas is analyzing religion from a purely functionalist perspective and that does not sound like him. But fitting his argument into a blog was no doubt a herioc effort. I was convinced to order the book, anyway.

On a similar note, if number 11 thinks Habermas’ view of rationality is empty and formalistic he is getting his opinions from people who has barely skimmed Habermas’ work.

245.

Bob Wheeler

Tyler, Texas

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Whatever the arguments offered for religious belief I cannot see how any enlightened mind would consider the promise of heaven and the threat of hell to be imperatives to the moral life. We are left with mutual self regard exemplified in social contract as a viable rationale for moral action. Just do good and be a good person.

246.

Jude the Obscure

St. Louis, MO

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Habermas’ book is a further exploration of the necessary truth that “Enlightenment reason”–in other words, secular Western culture–is a child of Christianity and cannot be understood without reference to it. True, it’s a rebellious child that has changed its name, run away and tried to deny its paternity, even at times abused its parent. But it can’t change its cellular cultural DNA.

What’s sad is that without self-awareness, Europe’s Christian-derived values degenerate into a series of prejudices that it no longer knows how to explain or justify to a world that needs to know. The French efforts to ban the burqa and the Swiss vote against minarets are inarticulate symptoms of a culture that has lost awareness of itself and can rediscover a dim shadow of itself only in what it is against, not what it is for.

247.

Laurie

PA

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Civilization goes through stages of moral development just as Kohlberg claimed we do as individuals growing up… Many individuals seemingly lack the character or understanding to make it to the final stage, including mr. fish, evidently as he presumably clings desperately to religion’s offerings for a cure to all that ails us.

One does not know what one does not know. Once one knows there are things one does not know, that is wisdom. We must hold back in those instances, use caution, not claim to know, not make those assertations. It is arrogance. We must not move blindly forward on some idealistic quest for what is goodness looking toward the proverbial spaghetti monster to guide us.

Ridiculous.

Our rational selves are well aware of those things of which we cannot claim knowledge, including the blather offered up as explanations we call religion. It’s just an easy to swallow some form of conformist (lazy) tendencies. Religions actively prey on those who don’t want the responsiblity. It preys on the sick and the dying. It it like a salve for the conscious, but it’s based on knowing what we, in fact, do not know. How arrogant! This is no basis for understanding anything except a way “out”, an exception to a rule, a dream of how things are not… not very healthy for people or the planet. Look around. We’ve had religion living on our street, knocking on our doors, ringing it’s bells, making its headlines… is the planet and the state of mankind better for it? Can anyone look at its influence and say it has a place in rational thought?
What, are you nuts?

Sartre reminded us we always have choice. What we choose, we need to be responsible for… we can’t line up behind some pre-fab dogma to tell us how to think. We have choice because we are human. There really is no place for religion once we “get it” ourselves… If we were more familiar with that level of responsiblity, if it were living on our street, knocking on our doors, ringing its bells and making its headlines, things improve! And this is not a post-secular age! God forbid! (pun intended). I often note that in the use of a term, one often hopes it becomes so. Its important to take words very skeptically and carefully these days. Again, an example touting rational, realistic thought. ) Human’s tendency toward belief in the metaphysical is a childlike poetry at best, smoke and mirrors most often, and perverts in gowns in confessionals at worst.

And I can’t help but notice that religion as it is available requires people to hand over their autonomy like helpless, irresponsible children. The child like analogies are prevalent. Isn’t it counterproductive to remain childlike to defer our morals, our critical thinking and rational decision making about right and wrong to purveyors of mental slavery, or at the very least con-men selling magical wishful thinking to go alongside our scary science? Not all of us are so afraid. And many of us know at least TWO ultimate truths that seem pretty important: We have choice. We are responsible.

I look to the future and think it’s best if we go on our higher, rational selves, empathic, interdependent… and free to choose. Let’s not pretend we can get away without choice and responsiblity… Let’s get over it and be responsible. When we need a ritual for a funeral, lets celebrate the life the deceased has led by honoring with reverence the dignity of the choices and responsiblity that person had in their life… that we all have.

248.

EM

NY NY

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

For me, the question is whether it is possible to be rationalistic, individualistic, and yet possess true humility? Humility is often espoused as a prize virtue by the Christian religions, but as it is usually preached and interpreted as the degradation of oneself in the service of an unknowable god, it simply gives the power of the individual away to those who claim to speak for or interpret the will of god, without necessarily providing inspiration.

Certainly we can be reminded of our humility (and as another commenter so excellently put it, our vulnerability) in the secular world: by nature, by science, by a personal or world tragedy, etc. And with that humility comes the recognition that we are not completely self-sufficient beings; that we need our loved ones, our communities, even our governments and social institutions. With humility, solidarity and service flow naturally from empathy for our own needs and those of others, without the need to sacrifice our rationality or individualism.

249.

terry

Spokane, WA

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Doesn’t secular humanism bridge these two realms? My experience says “yes”.

250.

Greg

Boston, MA

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Something Fishy this way comes (yet again!).

Look Fish, real science admits it’s own fallibility; this is its greatest virtue.

Religion, on the other hand, is “infallible”—-Divine revelation yadayadayada— and thus does not permit pluralism. Enter the Laviathan….

You obviously harbor a sentimentality for religion which is beyond stubborn, but please be sure to understand the above in your future ramblings.

Oh yea, and is empathy the exclusive domain of religion? I would argue empathy makes for a grander sense of morality than does a top down (and ultimately self-interested) religiosity (especially one married to the State!)…..and a “humanist” empathy derived from rationality is on display the world over.

251.

mac.coleman

Democratic Republic of he Congo

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Hmm…The same arguments and insights that have, for centuries, igiven Western Man a reason to build pubs and argue in them. My late-night input to the discussion: Science gives me effective flush toilets, life-saving drugs, and a better understanding of such thigns as the tides and seasonal winds. It does not, and should never, dictate why and how I should use these technical advancements for the betterment of myself and my neighbors. It never can explain why I want to help my family, neighborhood, community, or nation to live better lives–even at the sacrifice of my well-being or life. It never should be counted on to drive moral judgments that will require me to sacrifice anything. Only religiously founded morals should do that. If a society whose religiously based morals are replaced by enlightened, science based reason will quickly be led by one of two forces: the self-appointed, elite high priests in lab coats whose decisions have little moral restraint; or, by the leaders of invading, religiously-driven zealots whose religiously founded morals have little tolerance for the religions or atheistic desires of others. Take your pick, well-fed, well-heeled, well-kept Western World: both forces are tearing down the castles walls as we play our on-line games in the courtyard.

252.

sencael

lotusland

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Campbell, S. R. (2002). Constructivism and the limits of reason: Revisiting the Kantian problematic. Studies in Philosophy and Education: An International Journal, 21(6), 421-445.

253.

MM

NYC

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Waking up and reading this is both bracing and disheartening. Are we still in the 19th century ? What is demonstrated here is a complete lack of awareness of the ever-expanding evolution of human consciousness, both individual and collective. Both sides seem stuck in exactly the sort of mindset that
only perpetuates the culture wars that we have already endured and are becoming both more insidious and more blatant. Both religion and science have their function, but they are merely steps in an evolutionary progression which transcends and includes both of them. Self-awareness – more specifically, awareness of consciousness itself – is indeed the key; it is the issue of ultimate concern, encompassing all limited worldviews which lie “beneath” its awareness of inclusiveness and lack of separation between the seen and the unseen, form and non-form, the created and the uncreate, the truth of which is being daily discovered, reinforced and validated by both the highest forms of of science and has long been understood by the oldest wisdom traditions. For heaven’s sake, have people paid no notice to the model furnished by the course of their own intellectual development in life ? And has no
one read any Ken Wilber, one of greatest and most comprehensive minds that lives among us – who
happens to be American ? He’s been writing about these issues for thirty years… !

254.

Fred Schumacher

Burnsville, Minn.

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

We need to decouple religion, a search for the transcendent, from organized religion, which is really just another human secular artifact centered on the transcendent. Note Dersu Uzala, the Tungus trapper, instructing Vladimir Arseniev’s Cossacks that the sun, water, and fire are all alive, as alive as they were, and the sun was the most important “person” of all, for without it we would all die.

Humans hunger for transcendence. It’s one of our qualities that makes us notable in the animal world; however, primary gratitude for ethical behavior and life purpose has to go to our evolutionary history as social, territorial animals who had to learn how to live together in order to survive. That history long predates efforts to codify religion into some cohesive cultural invention.

255.

yogibard

Houston

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Nature is cruel and the only ‘sanctity of life” is what we humans assign it. There is no evidence for an “external agency” that intercedes in human affairs. If such an “external agency” does exist, it’s indistinguishable from simple randomness and isn’t worthy of worship.

Like it or not, our fellow humans are all we’ve got — so can we at least try to make each other less miserable?

256.

Jei Dubya

Spain

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

It is very irresponsible to imply that the only secular governments are liberal democracies. What about Marxist-based systems of government. These are secular to the fullest extent but also very goal-oriented (power to the workers, the creators of capital). Moreover, true Marxist governments carry the imperative to spread this system beyond the frontiers of it’s original place of emergence. The ultimate goal is a Marxist world. In that sense, the philosophy has a much greater potential of galvanizing and uniting historically antagonistic groups than any liberal democratic agenda.

257.

Chris Bayne

Lawton, OK

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Fascinating discussion about what reason can borrow from relgion to give it more of an cohesive inspirational allure. Reason has allowed for the development of more tolerent and just societies by abandoning the irrational intolerent elitists tendencies of many relgious doctrines. But, as the article states, seems to fail at getting people inspired to feel part of a caonnected whole. What a conundrum. For myself, I see nature as god and find my self inspired by the awesome magnitude of it,s power. In this way, by reflecting on natures power, beauty and ultimate cruelty, the world reveals it’s mysteries little by little and through our reason we can study and continue this journey of continued growth.

258.

DaveW

Tempe, AZ

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

Habernas is wrong. Individual freedoms, science, modern civilization, etc are all the products of a religious worldview, specifically, that of Christianity. Virtually all modern branches of science were founded by Christians. And, it was Christianity that gave the world hospitals and helped to end the Roman culture of suicide, infanticide and abortion.

Post-modernists and humanists reach into Christianity an pull out those things that they like, but cannot provide a basis for within their constructs. Most Christian apologists, consequently, consider such philosophies Christian heresies.

259.

Matias Alvarez

Park City, UT

April 13th, 2010

1:44 pm

What a tired old argument. Is it any surprise that those with a religious impulse choose to hastily prop up a system whose sand foundations are quickly eroding? To say that secularism considers all ideas does not, as Habermas does, imply neutrality or aloofness. In fact, it is the secular publics intolerance of clearly morally abhorrent behaviors which are perpetuated by religious tradition that seems to draw the most ire from those with a religious impulse. France’s condemnation of the Burka and the Catholic Church’s defense of a failed priesthood are only the most recent example of a secular society’s understanding of moral right in the absence of religion.

260.

H R Coursen

Brunswick Maine 04011

April 13th, 2010

3:20 pm

Reason is, indeed, missing something. But it is not up to religion to supply what is missing. The best argument in Fish’s piece is that that separates reason from religion. In Plato — ‘Theatetus’ for example — the discussion depends upon a rejection of the irrational. That is, emotion, hidden psychological motives, or religion. It is a brilliant exercise, but divorced from the realities that govern human action. To include other human energies within the scope of ‘reason’ is not necessarily to admit whatever religion may be, however — a belief in God or gods. The purview of ‘reason’ can be expanded to include psychological factors without recourse to religion. And what reason most needs nowadays is an admixture of ethics. The latter need not emanate from religion, though it can be extracted from most religions without the necessary baggage of belief. The example of non- believers demanding that their survivors listen to “I am the resurrection and the life” is not a good one. It is a reactionary reflex toward Sunday School and at best an example of Pascal’s wager. What is missing there, sadly, is the conviction of the dead person, undermined by his or her final decision..

261.

Mike from MA

Western Mass

April 13th, 2010

3:20 pm

I can’t be sure from Fish’s abridgement, but this sounded less like a conflict, if it is one, between reason and faith than the difference between classical religion — philosophical paganism — and semitic monotheism. And I note that Habermas is not proposing semitic monotheism as the answer to the rationalist difficulty in articulating meaningful ends.
I’m also not convinced that rationalism has failed to provide a compelling story of the transcendent. Physicists, for one, have been known to speak almost metaphysically about the strangeness of subatomic reality. I find it hopeful that the supreme rationalist science long ago got past rationalist caricatures of a mechanistic universe. It may be that the deeper your commitment to the rationalist project at its highest, namely science, the more spiritual you become, especially as your understanding of the complexity of the natural universe grows.

262.

Cleo Cherryholmes

Michigan

April 13th, 2010

3:20 pm

Another enjoyable Fish column. Perhaps one of Habermas’s problems is one that recurs throughout his work, his inability to follow the logic of his own argument. In this case that would require a deconstruction of the science/religion, fact/value and other distinctions associated with the Enlightenment. It would also require that he abandon his rejection of various post-structural arguments that he has been loath to do. If Habermas had more openly embraced American pragmatism instead of picking and choosing and failing to acknowledge his intellectual debt he might be happier with the outcome of this investigation. Of course, if Fish were to draw more heavily upon his terrific column on pragmatism in bringing closure to this conversation he might also be more satisfied.

263.

Ernie

Queens, NY

April 13th, 2010

3:21 pm

Of all the major religions, Buddhism is the only one that begins on a rational premise. The Buddha asked us to examine our own minds to see what is there, and to understand how its illusionary constructs lead to suffering and unhappiness, separation from other beings and creatures. If there is something such as a “post-modern” (isn’t it always post-modern?) approach to religious experience, Buddhism comes closest. Some people even call Buddhism an atheistic religion, and semantics aside, there is some truth to this.

264.

hr

switzerland

April 13th, 2010

3:21 pm

I think its important to define religion. I believe there are three types of spirituality. The first is a kind of belief in rituals and traditions having to do with natural world, the cosmos, wanting a good harverst, celebrating the seasons, respecting the natural world as something ‘supernatural’. The second type would be philosophy. Constantly asking questions about the meaning of it all, where do we come from where do we go from here, is there are greater sense to all this. The third type of religion is, in my opinion, where religion’s negative aspects surface. This third stage would be religion pure, where one set of rituals and one philosophy is considered correct or true (often making claims to moral superiority and correctness over other viewpoints). Eastern ‘religions’, like bhuddism and hinduism are rather a mixture of ritual and philosophy, none claim to have found the truth because there is no evidence for that truth to be confirmed. I once read a passage in one of the vedas describing the ‘genesis’ of the universe. The long and poetic passage ended with the words ‘but perhaps it wasn’t like that at all, how can we know?’ (I don’t have the exact reference with me as I write this comment). If the western monotheistic religions would admit that the answers to the big questions can never be known, and if science could admit that too, then perhaps we would see that questions are more important then answers. Perhaps we would find a way to see reason and spiritiuality not as opposites contrary to each other, but simply as means to admitting the universe, the cosmos and time and are greater than any of us.

265.

Jude the Obscure

St. Louis, MO

April 13th, 2010

3:21 pm

Response to sherm #103: “If religion’s contribution to society is merely attempts to enforce its own dogma (e.g. anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-woman rights) , where that dogma has no egalitarian substance, then it will wither.”

Being against abortion is the ultimate form of egalitarianism. Christianity asserts that the life of a developing human being (fetus) has equal worth with the lives of any of us. Being for abortion, on the other hand, requires either denying reason and science (which tell us that the fetus is a human being), or advocating a form of inequality like racism or Nazism (the belief that some human beings are inherently more worthy of life than others).

Either way, there is perfect harmony between Christianity and reason on the issue of the humanity and worth of the fetus. To pretend otherwise, you have to lie to yourself. That’s what Habermas became aware of in his later years.

And perhaps that’s why Christianity shows no signs of “withering,” despite sins and scandals. It continues to outlive its many, many would-be undertakers.

266.

Charles

Philadelphia

April 13th, 2010

3:25 pm

I suspect Habermas and Fish both suffer from a common ailment: the need for highly formalized philosophical structures.

As several commenters have already noted, formal religion is just one part of the broader categories we can call culture or worldview or simply tradition. It’s the nexus of often contradictory beliefs and desires that govern how we treat each other when standing in line for the bus, or yes, what to do about our soon to be decayed remains and the memory of our dead community members.

Religious thought probably attracts Habermas and Fish because the long history of religious wealth in many parts of the world funded a very large set of highly erudite and often extremely formal scholarly reflections on the human condition. Of course, all of those reflections, and no matter how elegant their formal structure, suffer from an unsurprising tendency to put religion at the center of the discussion.

It’s only quite recently that we have begun to extensively fund more inclusive efforts to understand how and why we decide to order our dealings with each other and the natural world around us. The scholars engaged in these activities are also much less likely than philosophers or theologians to issue formalized pre- and proscriptions for human behavior. However, their enormous advantage is that they are not limited by the formalistic discursive structures of philosophy and theology.

Because Fish has returned to this theme several times over the past few months I suspect he is conducting research for a book or article. Stanley, if you are really interested in how we make legal and political decisions in a largely secular era, I suggest you wander across campus and start having some serious discussions with anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologists, behavioral economists and cognitive scientists. You probably won’t find the (self-announced) coherent formal meta-arguments that you enjoy in philosophy and theology, but you just might find a much more fulsome understanding of human society and decision making.

267.

Luis L

Indianapolis IN

April 13th, 2010

3:25 pm

Great article, usual intellectual word salad to a non-intellectual like me. A modern compromise of the views presented would resemble an NPR interview of an individual who, though an atheist, drew comfort from strong observance of religious ritual bridging the paradox with regular psychoanalysis.

268.

Ben

Allston, MA

April 13th, 2010

3:25 pm

This column often puts me in mind of Nietzsche’s reaction to Paul Ree:

“Perhaps I have never read anything to which I would have said to myself No, proposition by proposition, conclusion by conclusion, to the extent that I did to this [article]…”

269.

Dan

Baltimore

April 13th, 2010

3:26 pm

Utter bollocks. You forget that Religion is a messy human activity that’s governed by ordinary people, and cannot transcend the problems you say are posed by reason. We still have no way to divine God’s will, and there are many different interpretations of metaphysical moral uprightness, none of which can be said to be better than another by any means. With Religion, we’re back where we started – probably worse.

You seem to be lost in a unitary Christian Protestant view of religion. The west is not the world.
“One God and one reason stem from the same historical source” Yep – you’ve definitely got a bad case of Eurocentrism, as well a fundamental misunderstanding of what “Reason” is.

Yes, Reason is insufficient for a meaningful moral life – but Religion is most certainly not the answer.

270.

Peter

Glen Rock, NJ

April 13th, 2010

3:26 pm

I know that there are secularists who claim that religions are outmoded and/or invalid by the lights of reason. But there are also people of faith who are practicing scientists. Both religious and secular experiments have resulted in bloodbaths. Both are based on human systems of thought. It seems to me that no one can know everything; we all act day to day to some extent based on beliefs, hunches, perceptions — that we all live our lives based on a combination of Faith and Reason and mainly disagree about what it’s reasonable to have faith in.

271.

Colin Wells

Westport, NY

April 13th, 2010

3:26 pm

“What secular reason is missing is self-awareness. It is ‘unenlightened about itself’ in the sense that it has within itself no mechanism for questioning the products and conclusions of its formal, procedural entailments and experiments.”

This is historically uninformed. I’ve had open on my desk for a couple of weeks G.E.R Lloyd, “Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies in the Origins and Development of Greek Science” at p. 232, where Professor Lloyd gives the lie to such frequently reiterated yet unsupported assertions. “In astronomy, mathematics and medicine, the Greeks preeminently bring open and discuss second-order questions concerning the nature of the inquiry itself.” These, of course, were the areas of inquiry that the Greeks took over and (Pythagoras notwithstanding) secularized. Others, from physics to history and philosophy, they invented altogether.

Self-criticism has always been central to the tradition of free rational inquiry. For an example from modern times, see David Deutsch, “The Fabric of Reality,” pp. 325-27. Deutsch demolishes the Kuhnian stereotype of violent, non-progressive paradigm-shift and its vacuous postmodern outgrowth by illustrating how actual scientists actually work in real life. “Explanations are sought, evidence and argument rule, and rank becomes irrelevant to the course of the argument. That, at any rate, is my experience of the fields in which I have worked.”

Colin Wells

272.

ligeia m.

Brooklyn, NY

April 13th, 2010

3:26 pm

I disagree that there is anything missing from secularism. If anything, I would argue that if we could put aside our religious differences (or religion i general) bringing like-minded people together to get things done would actually be easier. The only thing secularism is lacking is an authoritative figure telling you what to think, who to help, etc. It is a little less convenient to realize that you are completely responsible for your own life and planet. I think a lot of people aren’t willing to give up that convenience.

273.

Frank Thomas Smith

Argentina

April 13th, 2010

3:28 pm

Habermas’ thesis (as described by Prof. Fish) is rejected by many readers because it seems to equate religion with dogmatic organized churches, the latter having been the cause of so much misery throughout history and even today. If “religion” were understood in its true meaning of re-ligare – to reunite [with the spirit], it could become a rational object of investigation – philosophical as well as scientific.

274.

kiril alexandrov

Cambridge, MA

April 13th, 2010

3:28 pm

Does it matter if religion or reason or a combination of both are ultimately the best answers? What about the discussion that follows from the phrase “whatever gets you trough the night?” Isn’t that the heart of the issue that freedom is a great issue and that being alive and free to chose makes Fish, Habermas, the Jesuits relevantly irrelevant? As for death, which is usually the only issue for continental philosophy, let’s take it out of the equation since we don’t have enough data points and only conflicting beliefs. Perhaps faith and rationality should just better focus their efforts in making a better world which brings out their best aspects rather than being competitive. Good for Fish to bring this discussion around and about and get us all thinking about these issues.

One thought on “Does (Jürgen Habermas’) Reason Know What It Is Missing?

  1. The above debate? IS my religion. All children ought be made to not only have a position, but defend it. In and of itself, it’s a great way to open one’s mind and make one THINK.

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