Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reasonably inconsistent

(Merry Christmas :-) Religious pluralism is complicated (cf. dogmatism or nihilism) but God is, after all, naturally odd; and even the relatively mundane paradoxes (such as the St. Petersburg) take us beyond belief and into a complicated realm of thinking (about things). And although we regard it as irrational to hold inconsistent beliefs (which usually lead us to precisify our language) we could hardly reason (about the world) if we did not. E.g. when perceiving ordinary objects (such as trees) we naturally picture them within Euclidean space, even if we believe that space is non-Euclidean.
......More commonly, when getting about we naturally picture places as arranged in a flat plane, even though we know the world is round. We are probably born with the belief that the world is flat, and I guess that by the time we learn that the world is not flat that belief has become such an integral part of how we think about the world around us that it would be a huge waste of effort to try to eliminate it; it is more rational to have inconsistent beliefs. When asked we may say that we know that the world is not flat, but the fact that we also have the opposite belief is shown by our other beliefs.


Jeff said...

I'm reminded of the Catholic Church. It had a problem (o.k., numerous problems) when trying to hold on to the belief that the Earth is the center of the universe and everything orbits around it.
The problem was that navigation is much easier for sailors working with the model we know to be correct. For a while, the church barred sailors from calculating distance, location, etc. in the way which implies the world orbits the sun.
Eventually, the church changed it's position though. Long before the church agnowladged that the Earth isn't the geographical center of the universe, it gave sailors permission to operate on the assumptions it considered faulty. The expectation was that these assumptions were useful fictions for navigating through life.

I notice that the title of this post is "Religious Pluralism" but the dots were never explicitly connected between the title and our practice of holding on to beliefs that might not be, strictly speaking, correct.

I'm going to make an assumption, therefore. I assume you'll correct me if I've got it wrong.
My assumption is that you're suggesting that taking a faith stance, holding a religion is one of these sets of beliefs we adopt knowing that it is not strictly correct, but are useful fictions for navigating the world.

My biggest issue with this is that many of the world's religious traditions claim pretty specifically that the others are wrong. This is not an easy or popular position. It often gets overlooked in faiths outside of Christianity because Christians tend to be loud mouthed and obnoxious about this. (I say this as a Christian whose often embarassed by the actions of my brothers and sisters in Christ.)
Even the faiths which appear to be quite adaptable to pluralistic thinking are deceptive. Consider Hinduism. Folks often say that Hinduism provides a model for allowing the religions to co-exist. My issue is this:
If you say that all religions are right if we adopt a Hindu's point of view, what you're really saying is Hinduism is right and the rest are wrong. You can be a Hindu-Christian, or Hindu-Jewish, or Hindu-Budhist, but you can't be a non Hindu-Christian on these accounts.
Ultimately, the question becomes what is valuable about a belief set that isn't true. We know that Newtonian Physics aren't strictly speaking correct. But at the macroscopic level the problems are so minute that we're willing to take on a little less error in the name of easier calculations.
Assuming I understand your point, I think it's harder to explain what's useful about adopting a religious set of beliefs that don't reflect the fullness of reality.
You mentioned taking a course next semester. I hope it isn't cocky for me to suggest a couple amazing books. I suggest these because they're quite even handed and give folks on all sides to say their peace.
"More than One Way?" Is a book in four parts. Christian Representatives of The major proponents of each of the major positions on Religious Pluralism (Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism, and a position somewhere between exlusivism and inclusivism) They also refute and rebutt each others positions.

"The Myth of Christian Uniqueness" is a selection of essays by the heavy hitters in the Pluralistic Camp.

"Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered" is a collection of essays retorting to the preceeding book by the heavy hitters in the inclusive and exclusive camps.

I recognize these are all basically Christian perspectives though pluralists in particular tend to mine other traditions for wisdom.

Enigman said...

Many thanks for the reading suggestions, Jeff (incidentally, your "jeff" doesn't seem to link properly), and comments; and I think you're right about useful fictions not being a route to religious pluralism. Primarily I was noting that holding inconsistent beliefs is not such a bad thing ordinarily and in general, so that prima facie it might not be such a big problem as atheists like to think it is.

But also, although we may assume that the world being flat is the fiction, maybe (within relativistic space) it is the view that Earth is round that is the fiction; or maybe the non-Euclidean view is a useful fiction within modern physics, and space is Euclidean by definition (as Kant thought). Or maybe (as I prefer to hope) such beliefs are all approximations, suited to different conceptual jobs (cf. "Truth: a guide for the perplexed," by Simon Blackburn), and the question of which one is really true is not a sensible question, for us creatures; cf. the comments to the post linked to by the purple word "pluralism."

Enigman said...

From the first half of "More than One Way?" I gather (as mentioned in those comments) that pluralism is not really that far from (what is now standard) inclusivism. Hick does think of Jesus as just a holy man, but that may just reflect Hick's route towards pluralism (via his exposure to Eastern religions), rather than pluralism itself, because even Hick regards the triune God as our view of the Good, and only the latter as ineffable (rather than triune, or indeed, not triune).

Cf. Hick's view of a brown desk as brown, as a desk; whereas a bat would perceive the same thing very differently, as would a bacterium. The thing-in-itself is by definition unknowable (although we know that it is such as gives rise to our perceptions of a brown desk, etc.), with even "a fuzzy set of quarks" being just another of our pictures of it (a more theoretical and accurate, but less certain and intuitively less real one); but Hick would not say, of the brown desk in front of him, that it was not really a brown desk.