Thursday, January 29, 2009

Admitting to our own Metaphysics

In his cultural anthropological account of religion entitled The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz posits:

Religious belief involves...a prior acceptance of authority which transforms [the] experience [of Evil].

Bearing witness to injustice, pain and suffering in the world is not the foundation upon which we form our religious convictions. Rather, such encounters – the darkest nights of the soul – serve as the field in which we apply our religious commitments. In a very real sense, then, the Unitarian Universalist promise of justice, equity and compassion operates as a metaphysical heuristic that gives meaning to our universe by denying “that there are inexplicable events, that life is unendurable, and that justice is a mirage.” Though at times we may question the seeming invisibility of equity, for example, we are infrequently prone – if at all – to actually doubt the possibility of its existence somewhere or sometimes.

In effect, we do not worship the authority of said values, but instead accept the authority of such principles in our worship. Our ‘religious perspective’ – as one of many that inform our being and help us discern, apprehend and grasp our environment – works to move beyond “the realities of everyday life to wider ones which correct and complete them.” Through commitment to and encounter with reality’s often brute and harsh ‘reality,’ our religious perspective imbues a certain specific “complex of symbols” with a persuasive and undeniable authority. Here, we are left no other option than to admit to our own metaphysics.

In his provocative response to Geertz’s post-Enlightenment context of secularization, Talal Asad focuses on the genealogy of religious discipline and power. He strikingly takes Geertz to task, insisting that “changes in the objects of belief change the belief.” In this way, then, adjustments to the discursive webs that produce suffering also open up a space for the recasting of religious interpretations thereof. Again, this nuanced addendum to Geertz’s notion of (external) authority-sanctioned-belief raises questions and concerns for Unitarian Universalist theology: will we be willing to change our principles on account of new socio-historical realities? We have in the past - how about in the future? To what extent do we take our metaphysical ordering system for granted, such that realignment with a newfound status-quo will either go unnoticed or cause cataclysmic dissonance? What values have we safeguarded in the realm of the eternal?

No comments: