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Eamon Arasbard

Non-concrete reality

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This is a passage from AS that I've been mulling over. It's on page 710, and it's when Dagny first crash-lands in Galt's Gulch. She's asking John Galt about the legends about him, having to do with him finding Atlantis and such.

 

 

[Dagny] asked, "All those stories I heard about you -- which of them were true?"

[John Galt replying] "All of them."

...

[Dagny] "The ytyoung inventor of the Twentieth Century /motor company is the one real version of the legend, isn't it?"

"The one that's concretely real -- yes."

 

What does it mean for something to be non-concretely real, and can a non-concrete reality have value?

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To be real but not concrete would mean that the concretes of the fable never really happened. Yet, the fable is real in the sense that the message is true.

 

For instance, take the story of Joseph (from the Abrahamic religions). There was a man who interpreted a Pharaoh's dream of fat and thin cows. He said it meant 7 years of abundant crop would be followed by 7 years of famine. So, the king should fill granaries during good years to be used in years of need. The whole story might be concretely false. Perhaps there was never such a guy. Even so, the message is true: the boom-bust cycles in pre-industrial societies usually come from the cycles where a few years of good weather were followed by a few years of bad; therefore, one should prepare for bad years when times are good. Dropping the concrete of agriculture, the fable can still hold true across modern boom-bust cycles.  Even if we assume the whole story is concretely true, we can imagine such a story morphing into others: e.g. "Joseph was the man who flew up to heaven and forced the Gods of the Sun and the Wind and Rain to bow down to the Pharaoh"

Edited by softwareNerd

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For instance, take the story of Joseph (from the Abrahamic religions)....

 

This brings me to my next question -- wouldn't this argument mean that if parts of a religion have a message which conveys a truth which can be established through reason, that the religion would be partially real in that sense?

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This brings me to my next question -- wouldn't this argument mean that if parts of a religion have a message which conveys a truth which can be established through reason, that the religion would be partially real in that sense?

Yes, that's true... but, only in a certain sense. Many myths and parables teach good principles, and many commands of religions are good principles.

To the extent that a religion uses mystical epistemology or mystical rationalizations to justify its commands, it is bad. [it's a bit like the "stopped watch" that looks right at some point in the day, but is really not working at that point. But, religions don't have to use a mystical explanation for everything... they're often a mixed bag.

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To the extent that a religion uses mystical epistemology or mystical rationalizations to justify its commands, it is bad.

 

I would definitely agree with that. But based on this it would not seem to be immoral to go to church and pray for the psychological benefit.

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Well, I guess you'd have to examine the nature of the benefits I get from it. I suppose the biggest one would be my participation in a community of people who are generally friendly and welcoming. This can in turn be evaluated based on the actual values being exchanged, which I would say would be manifestation of the aspects of Christianity which are consistent with and required by rational philosophy.

 

I also think that spirituality serves a purpose by communicating rational values to the parts of the brain which are more instinctive and less rational, and that this provides a sense of life which is difficult to establish through reason alone. I also think that this is enhanced by sharing the experience with others, and provides a mutual psychological benefit to everyone present.

 

Granted, Christian values, even the ones which are rational, are not the kind which Rand emphasized. But I think this is more because Rand was attempting to correct the excesses of these values (Which lead to altruism, self-sacrifice, and self-condemnation) than because they inherently contradict Objectivism.

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I also think that spirituality serves a purpose by communicating rational values to the parts of the brain which are more instinctive and less rational,... ...

What do you mean by "spirituality"? it is true that one cannot be convinced of rational values by reading a series of formal syllogisms that scantly refer to concretes or invoke emotions. However, these are not unique to religion.

Do you mean something else by "spirituality"? Do you mean a set of belief held mystically, without reference to anything "natural"?

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Do you mean something else by "spirituality"?

 

I mean something analogous to the legends told about John Galt, with recognition that they are not literally true, but that they reflect things that are true, and reflect them in a way which appeals to the subconscious as well as the rational consciousness.

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I mean something analogous to the legends told about John Galt,... ...

I don't know why this would be labelled "spirituality", but stories and poetry and a memorable turn of phrase can be effective.

It is true that religions typically adopt legends. It is also true that they provide a venue for people to make friends, to have visibility, etc. But, just because religions adopt such means does not make religions useful qua religion. So much music came out of religion. Some of it is enjoyable. Yet, we would not suggest that religion is useful because it is the way music is created, would we? Or, take church architecture, or -- better example -- the church sponsored paintings. We would not conclude that we need religion to make buildings or paintings.

Religion is a ideological human endeavor, and we should expect it to adopt the various mechanisms we see. Even non-religious movements like communists, fascists, or even good movements, will sometimes spin legends about heroes of their movements, in order to inspire members. They sometimes have songs, paintings and sculpture too. For sure they have place where people can get visibility, and make friends. None of this means that the ideological aspect -- which is, after all, the defining aspect -- has any value.

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But, just because religions adopt such means does not make religions useful qua religion. So much music came out of religion. Some of it is enjoyable. Yet, we would not suggest that religion is useful because it is the way music is created, would we? Or, take church architecture, or -- better example -- the church sponsored paintings. We would not conclude that we need religion to make buildings or paintings.

 

But would we conclude that these paintings, music, or architecture are totally without value just because they we inspired by religion?

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But would we conclude that these paintings, music, or architecture are totally without value just because they we inspired by religion?

No, not at all. Imagine someone trying to come up with a song about Objectivist values, but creating something that was musically uninspiring and sounded like propaganda. Much better to listen to Enya sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel!" The same for painting etc.

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Then it does not seem to be irrational or immoral to practice religion as a psychological exercize, and participate in religious ceremonies for the purpose of exchanging psychological benefits, and acceptance of the values that a rational person should share with them.

 

I also think a lot of religious dogma (Including New Age spirituality) is a result of people trying to substitute concepts which provide psychological benefit for reality. For instance, a lot of "spiritual" people tend to preach universal love and automatic forgiveness, as well as the idea that being attached to the things we value is bad. Forgiveness, intimacy with others, and being able to adapt to change are all healthy things, but religious types will place them before reality, which leads to them sacrificing their objective values.

 

And of course there's the basic idea of a benevolent mystical being who controls the universe, which allows people to believe that the world is on their side.

 

It's when this sort of thing becomes people's literal beliefs that it stops being healthy.

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Then it does not seem to be irrational or immoral to practice religion as a psychological exercize,...

Belief in the existence of God ranges from the mildly irrational Deist type of belief to the more irrational variants that come packaged with all sorts of daily interventions, odd concrete injunctions, etc. "Practice religion" can mean a lot of things and all way to pretty batty. It is irrational to hold these beliefs, and rational to dump them and keep the good parts. However, it is true that just because someone goes to the Church every Sunday does not make him completely irrational, only partly so.

 

..., and participate in religious ceremonies for the purpose of exchanging psychological benefits, and acceptance of the values that a rational person should share with them.

I think you're talking about an atheist going to religious ceremonies like marriages, christenings, funerals? Of course there's nothing wrong with attending such ceremonies for friends and family. The point of being there is to celebrate or to mourn, and to do so with friends. Not irrational to attend and to celebrate fully, even if you find it incongruous that a wedding is being conducted under the sculpture of a guy being tortured to a slow death on a cross.

 

I also think a lot of religious dogma (Including New Age spirituality) is a result of people trying to substitute concepts which provide psychological benefit for reality. For instance, a lot of "spiritual" people tend to preach universal love and automatic forgiveness, as well as the idea that being attached to the things we value is bad. Forgiveness, intimacy with others, and being able to adapt to change are all healthy things, but religious types will place them before reality, which leads to them sacrificing their objective values.

 

And of course there's the basic idea of a benevolent mystical being who controls the universe, which allows people to believe that the world is on their side.

 

It's when this sort of thing becomes people's literal beliefs that it stops being healthy.

All this can be true. As you say, someone might hold some valid assumptions and beliefs, and attribute them to his religion. Epistemologically, that last bit is the problem: to the extent they're based on religion, rather than on looking around at the world, they are without foundation and arbitrary.... back to the "stopped clock telling the time" problem. If you survey religions, the more rational of the beliefs and rules do have a basis in reality. To the extent that the religion bases these on injunctions, they do not offer a reason for them. This is fundamentally bad, because the same method -- injunctions without reason -- can be the basis for all sorts of irrationality.

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Here's a question (Or maybe a way of rephrasing my previous question). Do you think it's irrational to attend church in order to experience a sense of life, without adopting the church's belief system?

To understand your context, let me first ask this question: have you been to church regularly at any time since (say, around) middle-school? Or, have you regularly followed any TV preacher?

If you have, then how would you answer your question in the context of your particular experiences? In other words, would you like to repeat that experience regularly as a way to experience the sense of life? If yes, you're close to your answer. If not, then do you think that was a specific experience; and, that you might be able to find better, more inspiring examples?

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Eamon, I have thoughts about what your trying to do here, but first let me ask, what do you think you mean by "the sense of life" you are trying to experience? How do you categorize this sense of life? What specifically about the christian community you are referring to do you think is somehow representative of rational values that a Oist would share?

Edited by Plasmatic

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To understand your context, let me first ask this question: have you been to church regularly at any time since (say, around) middle-school?

 

Yes, I do attend church regularly.

 

 

If you have, then how would you answer your question in the context of your particular experiences? In other words, would you like to repeat that experience regularly as a way to experience the sense of life?

 

Yes, as long as I can consistently filter out the religious dogma, and focus on the values which are consistent with my own rational beliefs.

 

 

Eamon, I have thoughts about what your trying to do here, but first let me ask, what do you think you mean by "the sense of life" you are trying to experience? How do you categorize this sense of life? What specifically about the christian community you are referring to do you think is somehow representative of rational values that a Oist would share?

 

I think the main thing is a positive view of the world. Christians tend to see a lot of the beauty in the world that many people ignore in the process of dealing with the struggles of everyday life.

 

Objectivism does also share Christianity's belief in benevolence, even if we regard the basis of this belief as fallacious and reject the morality of self-sacrifice. And I have tended to find that approaching the world -- or at least people who are deserving of goodwill -- with an attitude of generosity is very rewarding as well. As long as I'm not neglecting my own self-interest, I do see value in participating in a community of people who are generally warm and friendly and care about each other, and showing the same kind of goodwill in return.

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Yes, I do attend church regularly.

As I said, then you're already close to your personal answer.

My own experience with church was that the bad (mostly the boring) outweighs the good. Even if the preacher is funny or boisterous, after a few Sundays the novelty wears off for me, and the essence is the same old bromides. The mass can be mildly interesting in a "philosophic detection" kind of way. Still, if that was what I wanted, I could just as easily do that at home... and a very occasional visit to a church or to gospel TV would work better. The hymns are fine, but I don't need church for the music, and the music does not interest me anyway. All said and done, what is left is: a place where one can make some friends.

That's all the value I can see, personally. It boils down to the question "is church a good place to make friends and acquaintances?"

 

For benevolence, I really have not found it to be special among church-goers. What I've seen is a typical mix that I could find elsewhere in the population. The bulk are not bright, open-minded and intellectual enough to hold an interesting conversation. Just as many are petty and political. And, then there are a few who are great, and make fine friends.

If one already belongs to a church, I can see that it is easy and convenient to find your friends and acquaintances there. Personally, I could not do it, unless I lived somewhere with extremely limited choices. I'd  check out "Meetup" groups instead, if I wanted acquaintances.

 

There are so many churches. If yours works for you, as a conscious choice, and  not because it is in your comfort zone, make the most of it. 

Edited by softwareNerd

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This brings me to my next question -- wouldn't this argument mean that if parts of a religion have a message which conveys a truth which can be established through reason, that the religion would be partially real in that sense?

Couldn't you say more: That some aspects of religion and religious texts are "concretely real". Some historical aspect of religious texts are true accounts (though not all, to be sure). Some parables are valid and useful, based on the wisdom of life experiences.

The problem is the philosophical basis for religious morality--not religious teachings, per se.

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Here's a question (Or maybe a way of rephrasing my previous question). Do you think it's irrational to attend church in order to experience a sense of life, without adopting the church's belief system?

A sense of community, and a ready set of associates, talented musical performances; these are non-religious reasons for attending church. At some point, it seems dishonest. Do you make offerings? It seems fair to pay the price of admission for the entertainment. Those offerings support the aspects of religion you support. What about the portion of your offerings that support the teaching of intrinsicist values? Lack of critical thinking? Emotionalism?

There may be a sense of loss for abandoning church. It is too bad that there are few well-developed societies advocating reason. It seems hopeless. Just consider the people you know. How many are interestingly intelligent? We are a primitive and unevolved species.

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