Thursday, September 16, 2004

Freud vs. Lewis

The Question of God, on PBS last night.

Watched this last night with one eye while I was doing some work on the computer. I hate that PBS playacting thing - actors playing Lewis and Freud and pontificating at the audience, in phony accents, from behind phony desks. It's truly annoying. Definitely not "Ken Burns' Civil War."

But some good points raised during the panel discussion. One of the women said something I've been saying for years: we can't shunt emotion off to the side, as if it were some sort of impediment to rational thought, some damper on the intellect. Emotional reactions are part of our perceptual faculty, and it's necessary to understand them in order to get the Truth. The example I've seen used at times is the "hair standing up on the back of the neck" thing when we're walking alone on a dark street and we hear or see something worrying. (Actually, as I write this I realize that this is certainly the same physical response that my dog has - the raising of the hackles - when he's frightened. It makes us look bigger, like cat fur puffing out in the presence of an enemy?) We have these reactions for a reason, and we'd better pay attentiong. This wasn't fleshed out in relation to religious experience, though, I suspect because nobody knows how to express it yet. (I found it interesting, and telling, that the women were the ones who raised this point.)

What's amazing, though, is that we're still having the same "believer/skeptic" argument, and in the same terms, after all these years. There's some sort of disconnect (in language, I think) between religious people and non-believers. Maybe it's because religious people are careful not openly debunk what they may believe to be Biblical "myths," in deference to literalists; skeptics don't care at all about that. Perhaps we need to develop some language to talk about this, or at least to set out some basic axioms that everyone can agree to?

It's also hilarious when religious people try to describe religious experience to those who haven't had it! They always end up hemming and hawing and eventually saying: "Well, there are no words to describe it!" I think this tends to make the nonbelievers even more skeptical than they already are; you could see this in Michael Shermer's eyes, which would have been rolling if he weren't on camera, I suspect. I know exactly what is going on, from both sides, though.

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