Turtles All The Way

A basic concept that ignorant bigots like Dawkins don’t understand is that religion is that substance that we reach when we hit the rock bottom of our beliefs. It is our identity, the sense of who we are, and how we orient ourselves in the world in which we find ourselves. It is the framework within which all other questions are formed. In this definition of the word, atheism, agnosticism, radical skepticism, empiricism and its twin sister, logico-positivism, and of course the usual suspects of Hegelianism, Marxism, National Socialism, Fascism, Capitalism, Liberal and Social Democracy – all these are religions. Secular humanism. Oops. I’d forgotten that one :D Eric Voegelin, the great German-American Historian of ideas and religion called all these movements and intellectuo-spiritual formations ‘modern forms or manifestations of Gnosticism’ (I paraphrase). That is his Christian bias; fine.
The fact that these formations and belief systems, with few exceptions, are modern and hence (by definition) lack a tradition means that they have not had sufficient time for self-examination, which in time would reveal each belief system to be one among many in a whole universe of diverse beliefs, and while not giving up its position of primacy (or even exclusivity to the Truth), such examination would nonetheless allow that other cultures and civilizations have a right to determine what their truth is. Ignorant bigots like Dawkins have not reached this basic stage of human development, and in this sense I consider him and his ilk to be pre-Islamic (in the sense of Jahiliyyah), as Islam set straight the tradition that had been marred by the Constantinian version of Christianity and the Nicene Creed (which only recognized one religion, one truth within the realm) and declare the validity of other belief systems just as the great kings of Persia had held before Mohammad (peace be with him and with his purified family), where each nation was free to practice its own religion and way of life. “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, the Qur’an declared. And again there was light. The light that had been put out by the Constantinian monism of the Nicene Creed, which resulted in the Holy Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, the Renaissance reaction, and, it seems, a feeble and Quixotic attempt at hegemony, which of course is bound to fail.

The reason Hamann and Herder and the early German Romantics were the first to grasp the significance of Hume’s critique of the Age of Reason is because they saw how it not only limited the jurisdiction of reason, but indeed left no room to think of Rationalism as a system or even methodology that was no more ‘rational’ than any other, including, of course, religious ones. One of Hume’s critiques was that if you hold a position based on reason, and you are asked to give your reason for that belief, and you give it, you are then susceptible to being asked to provide a reason for *that* reason et cetera ad infinitum, so that you must ultimately admit that you have no more reasons to offer and that therefore your “reason” is ultimately unreasonable.

That Omega-point, if you will, has traditionally been called God – the point beyond which you go goo goo ga ga, like a child. It is the ‘unspeakable’ or some such fancy term that Rudolph Otto used (and Eliade and Tillich after him). The atheistic religions of modernity must needs refer to that point every now and again in their travels, and as they cannot use the word God or its known derivatives, they use words like ’singularity’, ‘asymptote’, and the ever-popular ‘Big Bang’. In their “Once Upon a Time” story or Creation Myth, the answer to the question “What was there before the Big Bang” is given variously as this, that or the other, but the answer is invariably couched in the religious taboo of discouraging such questions.

The great Welsh-English philosopher, Sir Bertrand Russell is said to have been giving a lecture on the motion of the heavenly bodies, on gravity, and on how Einsteinian general relativity changed the Newtonian conception of the physical universe. It is said that an old lady in the audience spoke up at some point in the lecture, saying, “But Sir Bertrand, everyone knows that the Earth sits on the back of a turtle!”

Nonplussed, Russell quipped, “Ah yes, but what does the turtle sit on?”

“Oh no,” she said, “you can’t get out of it that easily, its turtles all the way!”

Posted by Arash Darya-Bandari


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