Sunday, February 26, 2006


I learned a new term, recently, from Mis-nagid. It's called Onto-religion. I wanted to learn more about this term, so I googled it. I found this article about Religion and Respect from Simon Blackburn. The article is about his ethical dilemma he had after being invited to a Jewish colleague for a Friday night meal. It's an interesting dilemma for an atheist, but I don't want to get into his dilemma now, I just want to quote parts from it where he describes onto-religion and its opposite, which he calls expressive interpretation/religion:

Onto-theology makes existence claims. It takes religious language in the same spirit in which people calling themselves scientific realists take science. It makes claims about what exists, and these claims are more or less reasonable and convincing, and when they are true they point to explanation of the way things are in one respect or another. Onto-theology believes that there is, literally, a three-decker universe, somehow governed by a unified intelligence akin to a person who has various plans and preferences, and rewards and punishments at his disposal. The objects of religious belief-god or the gods-make things happen. They are part of the causal order. Religious beliefs are among the kinds of thing they make happen. Onto-theologians see no real difference between the way a chair explains my perception of a chair and subsequent belief that there is a chair there in front of me, and the way in which God explains the production of fire in a bush and the appearance of a couple of stones with commandments written on them.

Most people, I think, would call this Orthodox religion or fundamentalist. He goes on to explain its counterpart, expressive religion:

In more sophisticated circles, onto-theology is old hat. Instead we should see religion in the light of poetry, symbol, myth, practice, emotion and attitude, or in general a stance towards the ordinary world, the everyday world around us. Religion is not to be taken to describe other worlds, nor even past and future events in this world, but only to orientate us towards this world. Religious language is not representational, giving an account of disconnected parts of the cosmos, regions of space-time, or even of something like space and something like time, but in which all kinds of different things are going on. It is symbolic or expressive, orientating us towards each other, or towards our place in this world.

Being an atheist, Blackburn clearly dislikes onto-religion. But he has mixed feelings about the expressive kind. On the one hand he thinks it's not so bad since it isn't based on falsehood. On the other hand, he thinks it muddies the water a little and blurs the line between what he thinks is right (atheism) and what is wrong (theism).

I think there are more than just these two ways of looking at religion. These are the two extremes, but there are many points in between the extremes which people may actually hold of.

Personally, I am not looking for any symbolic system that merely expresses my subjective feelings. I am certainly not looking for what he calls onto-religion. That ship has long sailed by. What I am looking for is real wisdom regarding human existence and not mere expression. I really want objective truth and ethics that are based on these truths. Is this possible? I believe to some extent it is, but it is more of a subtle truth and it is hard to notice even when it is right in front of your face.


Blogger Mis-nagid said...

That Blackburn paper is well worth reading.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Very interesting. Thanks.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when you say you're looking for "wisdom" and "truth" thats a little broad. I'm not quite sure what you're referring to.
what questions are you asking, which you hope to have answered by "truth and wisdom"?

4:23 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>what questions are you asking, which you hope to have answered by "truth and wisdom"?

just your basic questions. What is reality? Is there objective truth? If so, what is it? and does it matter? What is the proper way to live my life?

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any religion and reasoning is not about truth, and if your looking for it don't keep yur hopes up, for you'll never 'know' you found it.

You'll just have to except the possibllity that anything can be the truth, and what you rule out as being true, is basically choosing the other side of the same coin.

1:20 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...


have you thinking about these questions long? Can you tell me a little about you background? Are you religious?

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its interesting you asked, for though that it would probably make a difference - now that you asked- it didn't occur to me when I wrote it, that it would. Thats probably fairly obvious, for I believed I was conveying my own opinion in an objective manner, regardless of who I am and how much I thought about it, just merely on the assumption that what I write will subjected to your analysis and reflection, and you'll come to this simple conclusion via your own personal reasoning.

I realized, however, that I did portray somewhat of a pedantic attitude towards religion (and all philosophy for that matter), and that i might have given the false impression that i searched and studied (proficiently) different opinions in religion and philosophy, and even adopted many contrasting opinions perspectives on it. until I ultimately came to the conclusion (after a long journey and reflection) that its all bull.

Although I actually did not do all this, I find it still unnecessary in order to arrive at my conclusion. For i did actually convert from different (sometimes very contrasting) perspective on many aspect of religion in general, and Judaism in particular. and I just cannot help myself -after the feeling of ambivalence on many issues, and shifting back and forth- but conclude:
that every convincing view is just the other side of looking at things. You cant disprove anything (well, maybe not anything) with proofs and facts, and if you happened to convince someone, or be convinced on your own intuition, that a certain belief is right, its just a play on emotion, interest and ego etc., that compels you to concur.

So you might say that I view it this way, as a condolence on my ambivalence ("nothings right nothings wrong its all about the way you look at it"), however that itself can compel me to say maybe yea maybe not (of course you cant look at everything that way), but that's a more a psychological issue, that I'm not interested getting into.

I just want to conclude: even if i decide in the near future (i still have a lot to learn), that some perspective in philosophy and religion is right and true, I'll always have in mind (at least somewhere in the back of my head) that this seems so not because it is the the actual truth, but only because I'm forced to look at it that way (whether by my own logical reasoning, interest etc.) .

P.S. Yes I am religious (still in yeshiva) for all practical purposes, and, of course, I was once passionately so. I guess I, basically, lost my passion towards it (for whatever reason), and thus my rationale mostly leads my thoughts for now.

7:08 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

I find the conclusion that there is no truth to be found to be absurd. Because if you trust your reasoning/Intuitions to come to this conclusion, then obviously you think that some truths can be attained. And hence your left with a contradiction, so that conclusion must be false.

I would agree with you that there aren't many truths that we can know with any degree of certainty, but surely there are some. For instance, I'm sure I exist and I am sure that existence exists. For me (or anyone else) to deny this would be absurd. So it's clear to me that some truths are above doubt. Using this as our jumping off point we can proceed with greater confidence.

Currently, I am studying the works of Spinoza because my intuition tells me that I can learn a lot from him. You should also try to find a path or a way that you feel will help you. Don't try to go it alone

It's important not to twist ourself in a knot when searching.We can't despair if we don't have a clear grasp of everything. We have to think things through slowly and clearly and try to get help from those who came before us. Spinoza ends off his book on Ethics:

"All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."

If it's worth attaining then it's worth putting in the effort to attain it.

good luck with your search

11:22 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

P.S. I'm just curious, how did you find my blog?

11:36 PM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

As u said there are many intermediate positions. For one u need not more a realist on God than you are on chairs or science. Many of the problems are alleviated if one takes a pragmatist line on what there is, for example Rorty or even Putnam in some of their versions. Sorry for the awkward formulation.

I like your blog.

11:02 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>I like your blog.


11:28 AM  

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