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Some quotes and topics for the next podcast

Lot's of good media to weave into the podcast this week. Yesterday I posted several quotes from a new essay by Barbara Ehrenreich. Here's another:

...compared to the danced religions of the past, today's "faiths" are often pallid affairs--if only by virtue of the very fact that they are "faiths," dependent on, and requiring, belief as opposed to direct knowledge. The prehistoric ritual dancer, the maenad of ancient Greece or the Caribbean practitioner of Vodou, did not believe in her god or gods; she knew them, because, at the height of group ecstasy, they filled her with their presence. Modern Christians may have similar experiences, but the primary requirement of their religion is belief, meaning an effort of the imagination. Dionysus, in contrast, did not ask his followers for their belief or faith; he called on them to apprehend him directly, to let him enter, in all his madness and glory, their bodies and their minds.

-Barbara Ehrenreich, Reclaiming What Makes Us Human: Through the ages, the killjoys of governing elites have been threatened by pubic expressions of collective joy


Ehrenreich makes the argument that the practices that elicit communal joy, the glue that wedded 50-200 pre-historic humans into a mutually inter-dependent community, proves threatening to those ruling elites who do not participate in the celebrations and who see the community coheasion these experiences of communal joy promote as threatening to the stability of the hierarchy. This brought to mind a quote that I long ago liberated from the context of one of a couple of books I once owned. For this post, I fished the quote out of the the TOTD archives.

There are strands of Christian faith, to take my own tradition as an example, whose distrust of the life-force is so great that their main agenda has become the control of the human spirit rather than its liberation. In these quarters, human vitality is seen as little more than a threat to good order.

-Parker J. Palmer


Same with this next quote. I no longer have the access to the source material, but I kept the quote on ice for years for an occassion just such as this.

We must repudiate religions which defend against religious experiences, wearily celebrating communion with a placebo sacrament, which requires faith and gives none!

-Jonathan Ott


Everything between the first quote and this next one came to me after I started to put this post together. Initially, I had intended to pair the Barabara Ehrenreich quote with this one from Ran Prieur, which I read on a recent Podcast:

In many ways we are worse off than ever. In ancient Greece, even slaves had a deep social role as part of a household, unlike even higher class modern workers, who are valued as things, interchangeable parts in engines of profit. Medieval serfs worked fewer hours than modern people, at a slower pace, and passed less of their money up the hierarchy. We declare our lives better than theirs in terms of our own cultural values. If medieval people could visit us, I think they would be impressed by our advances in alcohol, pornography, and sweet foods, and appalled at our biophobia, our fences, the lifelessness of our physical spaces, the meaninglessness and stress of our existence, our lack of practical skills, and the extent to which we let our lords regulate our every activity.

-Ran Prieur, The Age of Batshit Crazy Machines


If all goes according to plan, I'll be recording a conversation with Ran later today to be used in tomorrow's C-Realm Podcast. This is the stuff that's on my mind.

What's on yours?

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
prester_scott
Mar. 13th, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
The prehistoric ritual dancer, the maenad of ancient Greece or the Caribbean practitioner of Vodou, did not believe in her god or gods; she knew them, because, at the height of group ecstasy, they filled her with their presence.

Bah. Any amount of epistemology can make mincemeat out of this statement. How do you know that what you're experiencing is a god rather than your own imagination? Unless you are ready to admit that your "god" really is Yourself, which is the opposite of most religions' claims, including ones that are heavily esoteric.

Ehrenreich makes the argument that the practices that elicit communal joy, the glue that wedded 50-200 pre-historic humans into a mutually inter-dependent community, proves threatening to those ruling elites who do not participate in the celebrations and who see the community coheasion these experiences of communal joy promote as threatening to the stability of the hierarchy.

What of cultures wherein the ecstatic experiences create, rather than dissolve, a hierarchy or caste system? Gnosticism tended to be like that, with the strict distinction between the "psychic" and "pneumatic" persons. This has crept back into Christianity in contemporary Pentecostalism and Charismatic circles. One thing you have to admit about the supposedly cold and dry sacramental system is that it is egalitarian.
kmo
Mar. 13th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
Even Better than the Real Thing
Bah. Any amount of epistemology can make mincemeat out of this statement.

Dangerous stuff that epistemology. If you turn it up to the maximum setting, it makes mincemeat out of everything and you get left with nothing more substantial than ghostly statements concerning probabilities and logical necessities.

How do you know that what you're experiencing is a god rather than your own imagination?

Are you asking me? If so, then my answer, as I think you could probably supply without my help, is, "You don't."

If you ask the dancers themselves, they probably wouldn't care to even step into the epistemological ring with you. What would they have to gain? I certainly wouldn't set these people to the task of fighting their way out of the gunny sack of solipsism any more than I'd crash a Youth For Christ event to read aloud long quotations from Bagwan Shree Ragneesh's diatribes against Christianity.

Unless you are ready to admit that your "god" really is Yourself, which is the opposite of most religions' claims, including ones that are heavily esoteric.

I think you get little tide pools of mysticism and pantheism in most religious traditions. I think you could probably find Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists the world over who would feel little pain uponadmitting that the distinction between God (god, or gods) and animal organisms amounts to a difference that makes no difference. They remain a small minority, and particularly in Muslim nations, they probably keep that notion under their hat, and wisely so.

Ultimately though, the people who go in for experiential religion, rather than intellectual or perfunctorily social religion, don't much care about the "ah-ha"s and "gotcha"s of logical necessity or epistemological integrity.* Not to call such folks animals, but they probably regard epistemological arguments about whether intentionally-induced religious experiences should be taken at face value or dismissed as delusions in much the same way my cat would regard any abstract notions about the practice of hunting birds that I might formalize for her edification.

*Of course, I'll have to qualify that generalization. Every community has its geeks and abstraction fetishists.

What of cultures wherein the ecstatic experiences create, rather than dissolve, a hierarchy or caste system?

That's an interesting question. You seemed to have supplied the stump of an answer. I don't know which particular flavor of Gnosticism you're talking about here. I do know that talk of a monolithic "Gnosticism" cuts many convenient corners. Still, the topic interests me, and if you wanted to devote the time and energy to fleshing out that stump (isn't that what they call nascent wikipedia entries?) I would definitely give it a careful reading. Do you have any contemporary examples we could look at?

Gnosticism tended to be like that, with the strict distinction between the "psychic" and "pneumatic" persons. This has crept back into Christianity in contemporary Pentecostalism and Charismatic circles. One thing you have to admit about the supposedly cold and dry sacramental system is that it is egalitarian.

True, there's no active sacrament that the hierarchy-minders are keeping to themselves while doling out the placebos to the rank and file.

Christianity, when viewed as Judaism for Gentiles, definitely represents a big advance in egalitarian thinking and concern. I have no problem at all making that admission, but then I'm not out to paint ugly caricatures of religions or religious people nor do I feel the anti-theist reflexive impulse to shoot holes in any presentation of religion as addressing some cherished secularist concern, e.g. egalitarianism.


prester_scott
Mar. 13th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Even Better than the Real Thing
Dangerous stuff that epistemology.

Yes, but you don't need to apply very much in order to separate religious systems based on purely subjective mystical experiences from those based on historical artifacts. When you start probing the former even a little bit then you are forced to go postmodern. No facts, no universals, no falsifiables, just "that's how I roll." That is really not "pre-historic" thinking. Premoderns don't have an upper and lower shelf for truth.

Ultimately though, the people who go in for experiential religion, rather than intellectual or perfunctorily social religion, don't much care about the "ah-ha"s and "gotcha"s of logical necessity or epistemological integrity.

I wouldn't call such folks animals either, but you have to wonder about the relative value of a religion that excludes entire categories of human faculties.

I don't know which particular flavor of Gnosticism you're talking about here. I do know that talk of a monolithic "Gnosticism" cuts many convenient corners.

Yes, I know the category is broad. Upon doing a little digging I note that it was the teachings of Valentinus that brought the caste system to the fore. Valentinianism was one of the major Gnostic systems. Anyway, I note this not to discuss these specific systems so much as to raise (at least) one historical exception to the proposition "ecstatic religions are anti-hierarchy."
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