“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Responding to Levi Bryant on the Question of Religion

I’ve copied my response to Levi below:

I’m glad you are not reducing all religion to the sort of literalism we’re both trying to critique (you from a scientific standpoint aimed at religion, me from a spiritual standpoint aimed at scientism). Regardless of what the majority of “believers” may think about the ontological status of their religious propositions (neither of us can offer anything but anecdotal evidence on this point), what I’ve been attempting to do in our discussion is shift us away from the sort of representationalist paradigm that would construe religion in terms of “true v. false” belief. Deleuze does thematize the modern turn away from certainty toward belief, but his discussion of belief is set in a pragmatic context where what is most important is not whether the object of the belief is fabricated or factual, but whether the effect of the belief is life affirming or nihilistic. A belief in the divinity of Jesus may be totally fabricated, but from my perspective, this is irrelevant. The important question to ask is how the “fictional force” of such a belief works to transform individual and social behavior and experience. The important question to ask is not “is religion true?” but “what does religiosity make possible?” I know this is part of the way you want to analyze the question of religion, as well. You tend to emphasize the negative effects. I recognize that certain expressions of religiosity are socially, politically, and ecologically damaging. But I also recognize other expressions of religiosity that have positive social, political, and ecological effects (e.g., Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who just yesterday spoke at our commencement here at CIIS). It is not at all obvious that the negative outweighs the positive; and even if it did, I question whether it is really possible to purify ourselves of religiosity, be it of the ancient, animistic sort or the modern, scientistic sort. Myth and symbol are inextricable features of human cognition, whether we are scientifically trained or not. I know of no scientific theory that is utterly free of narrative structure. Even mathematical formalisms share the metaphorical structure of poetry in their use of an “=” sign. I am not trying to equate scientific with mythic modes of experience; I think the scientific method is a sort of technological and empirical refinement of our innate story-telling capacities. I also think that we need a new form of spirituality today, one not limited by ancient or modern forms of literalism. My essay on Whitehead and Deleuze tries to spell out how we might proceed on this front.

What confuses me about your approach is that, as Jason and others have pointed out, you seem to ignore the important ground that was laid (or perhaps the ground that was demolished) by Nietzsche’s philosophical hammer. I’m sure you’re familiar with his short piece on the “true world” becoming a fable. If this “true world” is no longer tenable, what are we left with? Not the apparent world, surely, since the meaning of “mere appearance” is scrambled unless there is an original truth that appearance is a better or worse attempt to copy. So what are we left with? We are left with two choices: negation or affirmation. The latter choice requires admitting that we are world-creators as much as world-discoverers, that all our techno-scientific knowledge is but another genre of poetic expression (an extremely powerful genre!). Affirmation means accepting the participatory nature of all our supposed reflective knowledge, that it cannot grant us access to a ready-made Reality waiting to be “truly” or “falsely” represented, not only because knowing is always already performative/enactive, but because no such unified, ready-made Reality exists. Different modalities of knowing call forth the realities they desire to know. So let us not continue to pretend that the expression “True world” has any one precise meaning. The true world died along with God. What is left for us is artistic expression, song and dance, ritual and celebration. If Philosophy is to remain relevant today, it cannot do so as a form of ascetics, but must unground its traditional representational basis so as to become a kind of conceptual artistics (i.e., a creation of concepts, as Deleuze would call it).




12 responses to “Responding to Levi Bryant on the Question of Religion”

  1. Juliano Avatar

    THAT you are blind unless you begin understanding what the occult elite are up to!
    Mark Passio–a researcher into the “dark occultists”–‘The owl is a predatory bird that can see its prey in the dark, from a higher perspective. It can stay hidden from its prey.
    Mark Passio: The [symbol of the] owl is, I guess you could say, the mascot of the sorcerers. It is the animal that is most identified with consciousness that is aware, yet is using that knowledge to suppress those that are not in the know.”’ IE, MINDCONTROL is really going on. So any exploration of issues as I say is quite blind unless it begins facing this real menace that is at the inner core of this matrix we are in.
    George Orwell –
    – Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

    Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws –Confucius

    IE, those who control the past are they who control the symbols, and as you look into this you find that symbols in themselves are innocent, but have been appropriated, and then are used like said as mind control.

    WE lose–are forced –to lose contact with our creative origins and creative imagination. We are grilled via ‘education’ that we are biological robots living in a dead nature /Earth and universe, and our only purpose is to produce for the authority, and consume for the authority.

    WE need to break down illusory walls between fields of inquiry. Take the occult elite, and the UFO phenomena, and their war on psychedelics/consciousness. ALL these issues are deeply related, yet people researching these fields often are ignorant of or hostile to looking into the other fields. This is fucked up and needs radically changing. because there is real URGENCY. When you begin realizing the utterly insane psychopaths who are in powerful positions and what they are doing to Mother Earth and peoples and other species, and intend to continue doing so—driven by their belief in their toxic mythology— then you must realize the urgency to cut through the toxic crap! it is VERY important to become aware of the mindcontrol because becoming aware undermines it.

  2. ggoldbergmd Avatar

    Completely agree with Matthew in this response to Levi Bryant. We need to take a pragmatic perspective on this; not a scientistic analytic perspective that believes that logic and science are the only available road to “Truth”, but the pragmatic question of what it is that our beliefs make possible in the real world.. Ultimately it is the Good in concrete experience which should be the “bottom line.” In fact, the pragmatic American tradition from William James through to Alfred North Whitehead is critically important here. And, I would add to this that conceptual aesthetics alone is not sufficient. If we are to support the continued existence of co-existence and civilization, then we also need guidance with regard to the toleration of difference and a recognition of the great dangers of totalization in any form, even that of a philosophy oriented toward conceptual aesthetics. We need ethics–ethics as “first philosophy” drawing from Levinas. We need to recognize the path from Jerusalem as just as valid and important as the path from Athens. There must be a blend of both the love of wisdom and the wisdom of love if humanity is to reach its full potential through cooperative enterprise. The love of wisdom must be tempered by the wisdom of love. If this is the pragmatic outcome of a religiously oriented belief in a power greater than ourselves, one that conveys a sense of affirmation not just in ourselves, but in humanity as a whole, as opposed to negation, then that is a good thing.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      What about an “aesthethics”? A mouthful of a word, I know, but here’s a sample: https://footnotes2plato.com/2011/09/27/aesthethics-loving-the-beauty-of-goodness/

  3. dmfant Avatar

    doesn’t a pragmatic turn to, call for, efficacy cry out for some empirical research/investigations and not just author-itative/theoretical assertions?
    will there be some look into say the related ethnographies in your project or just a collection of like-minded theorists?

    Click to access web

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      I will contextualize my theoretical comparison of Schelling, Steiner, and Whitehead with a historical study of their precursors, and by examining the cultural bifurcation of the 17th century that split the practices which have since come to be known as “modern science” and “technology” from the practices which, during the Renaissance, we’re known as the “magical sciences/arts.” There is a lot at stake here cosmo-politically, as part of my project is to draw upon Schelling, Steiner, and Whitehead to begin articulating the metaphysical basis for an “alternative modernity” founded upon imagination and hermetic polarity rather than rationality and Cartesian duality, to put it simply. Frances Yates was among the first to explore the terrain linking the origins of science with Renaissance magic, though there are some problems with her methodology. I’ll be drawing on more recent scholarship, like Couliano’s Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, Val Dusek’s study of folk influences on occultism and the beginnings of electromagnetic theory in The Holistic Inspirations of Physics, and Christopher Lehrich’s The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice.

      So while I won’t be doing ethnographic fieldwork (since I’m less focused on contemporary occult practices), I will be studying the cultural contexts of the three thinkers I’m drawing from.

      1. dmfant Avatar

        ah gotcha history of ideas, wasn’t suggesting that you do ethnographic work but rather that it might be helpful to look at some to get a sense of how these matters actually play out in the rather idiosyncratic lives of people as I was taken by your earlier reference in the last thread to the importance of focusing on differences that make a difference, never mind than.

  4. sam Avatar

    I love Nietzsche’s account of how the true world became a fiction. Good stuff. However, I don’t think that we’re left with art after the death of God and truth. I’m thinking of Warhol or, more explicitly on the “art is dead” point, Rodchenko. Art’s dead, too. Once God died, everything is dead, even ritual and celebration. With the true world gone, the whole world of praxis is gone with it. Nothing remains.

    Also, I don’t think the Deleuze/Guattari definition of philosophy as a creation of concepts is an aesthetic act of creation or a conceptual aesthetics. They very clearly distinguish the creation of concepts (philosophy) from the creation of blocs of sensation (art), which are conglomerations of percepts and affects. I’m not saying they’re right to make such a clear distinction. I’m just saying that D&G aren’t reliable friends in the development of aesthetics as proto-philosophia. Aesthetic first philosophy sounds more like Merleau-Ponty or Harman than D&G.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Hey Sam,

      I hear ya. I guess I had in mind D&G’s statement early on in WIP?: “Philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts” (2). I should have written “artistics” instead of “aesthetics.”

      As for art being dead, I’d agree if we’re talking about the artistic product. I was trying to gesture more towards the ongoing artistic process rather than the finished product. If pre-packaged meaning is no longer possible, the only way to achieve meaning is by making it ourselves out of whatever materials are at hand. Although, having recently read Tolkien on the need to balance the “mythopoeic” with the “mythopathic,” I’d want to emphasize that making always requires paying attention to what the material being made wants to become.

      1. sam Avatar

        Conceptual artistics sounds good. I like conceptual aesthetics, too, even if it doesn’t sound properly DeleuzoGuattarian. The mythopoeic/mythopathic distinction is a good find.
        That quote from D&G needs to be put in its context. A few pages later, they say “philosophy is not a simple art of forming…concepts.” Instead, philosophy is a “discipline.” Philosophy, art, and science are all creative, since nothing is ready-made any more (Duchamp’s readymades notwithstanding), but for some reason D&G claim that such creativity does not imply that philosophy is artistic or scientific, since philosophy’s creative activity has an entirely different object (concepts) than art (percepts and affects) or science (functions). I don’t know why they put up such rigid boundaries between science/art/philosophy. Maybe they’re just overcompensating for the boundary-dissolving rampage of Anti-Oedipus. Or maybe they’re trying to build a brain.

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