Monday, May 30, 2005

Half a Conversation on Universism

I wrote to the Universists at The note I sent was a shorter, earlier version of the previous posting to this blog.

To my surprise, I received a reply from none other than Ford Vox himself. Here is my half of the exchange that followed, with brief summaries of Mr. Vox's responses.

Mr. Vox replied to my first note by essentially agreeing with me: Universism is dogmatic relativism, set up as an ideological movement that is intended to counter the theology of conservative Evangelical Christianity.

My reply:

The project of creating an equal-but-opposite ideology to match hard-right Evangelicals is precisely what I'm worried about.

What occured to me after I wrote my first note to you is that the problem with intolerance is that it sets up an "us-versus-them" dynamic that seems bound to lead to bloodshed if left unchecked: "we" can see clearly that "they" are the source of all evil . . .

I hardly think the cure for a religious "us-v.-them" is to set up a secular "us-v.-them". There has to be another way.

Mr. Vox responded by once again agreeing with me: Universism is intended to be an us-versus-them approach. He suggested that I might try Universalist Unitarianism (UU).

My reply:

I've been to UU meetings, and found them unbearably insipid.

I'm really a full-blown skeptic - a philosopher by inclination, by training, and by profession. I've recently taken some fresh inspiration from Socrates himself, at least as he is portrayed in Plato. The spirit of questioning is what I value, open-ended and rigorous inquiry that can inform practice.

Unlike UU, I don't want to insist that questioning must always lead us to the transcendent as conceived in bland deism or the Perennial Philosophy. Unlike Universists (as I understand your doctrine), I don't hold that there is "absolutely" no such thing as absolute truth.

What I see in this last claim is the mistake made by Academic skeptics, the philosophers who eventually came to the fore in the Academy founded by Plato. They were dogmatic in their skepticism, asserting positively that there could be no positive assertions of truth. More thorough skeptics like Sextus, and more moderate skeptics like David Hume, show ways of avoiding such an obvious contradiction while still practicing a thoroughgoing skepticism.

If you really mean to found a religion, then you have to realize that language matters. If you set up the absence of absolute truth as an absolute truth, then people will rally around that truth as their unifying belief. If you dress that truth up in revolutionary rhetoric of banners and crusades, then your followers (for that's what they will be) will turn that rally into a march, and may eventually turn that march into a pogrom.

The will to believe is a basic feature of human psychology. We are always yearning for the transcendent and, if we don't have it, we'll take something close at hand and exalt it. If you set up Relativism, Nihilism, The Dear Self, or Whatever Floats Your Spiritual Boat in the place of God, and you tell your followers that those who do not share your beliefs are the root of all evil, then your new religion will be indistinguishable in its dogmatism and its dangers from the most benighted forms of Christianity.

In his response Mr. Vox once again agreed with me, embraced the paradox of the Dogma of Faithlessness, and declared its rise to be “inevitable.”

I have not yet bothered to reply.

You just can’t talk to these people.

1 comment:

DaisyDeadhead said...

Flannery O'Connor already described this in Wise Blood, she called it The Church of Jesus Christ Without Jesus Christ: "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way."