i learned from a sign on a guy's backpack that the world is ending. then there were the silent protestors with the "atheists love you" signs, and little mennonite children holding signboards that encouraged the onlookers to repent. there were bibles being waved at a crowd of at least two hundred. oh, the joys of eugene!
yesterday's hilarious collision of belief systems at the e.m.u. (spectator video) got pretty ugly at some points. there was a lot of screaming and name-calling. basically, it was brilliant to watch.
multiple times i saw people come down from the crowd and either debate or support the fundamentalist preacher. there was often rudeness on both ends, while the crowd crudely moderated by either drowning out or screaming "let him speak."
amid the crass yelling and un-stifled laughter, i thought i could sense a sort of excitement that goes beyond the usual mocking. there seems to be a suppressed desire for discourse on belief and its real-world consequences; and this in a university that patronizingly treats serious belief like pop art.
and then there's the phenomenon of the chomsky speech, during which people literally sat outside in the cold listening on a speaker after the lecture hall and all the satellite video locations were full to capacity.
here are several generations of self-proclaimed free thinkers (with anachronistically unthinkable volumes of information available on their cellphones) cramming in to lecture halls to hear the conclusions of an almost an almost resolutely anti-polemical 92-year-old linguist. is there really so much popular disgust with contemporary politics? what gives?
we have developed in western academic culture what the contemporary thinker sam harris refers to as "balkanized discourse." once we enter university, our beliefs never engage our knowledge or experiences in way a that would make us alter either of them. this is the foundation for religious moderation in the west.
this separation of brain and faith is actually a good thing on an individual level. if what you want out of life is peace of mind and a sense of community, then mindlessly embracing conflicting ideologies is a very effective approach. however, on a societal level this poses some serious issues.
religious moderates, who support, for example, the bible can't in good conscience take it all literally. there are several roadblocks to this, including revisionism among the later canonized jewish thinkers (see romans 9, hosea 1-2), cultural specificities (see paul's letters) and considerations of genre (jonah is a satire, jesus' parables are metaphorical, etc.)
however, there are obviously those who take the bible so literally that they feel the need to subjugate women and shout the hell-fire gospel on college campuses. not so long ago in many western nations there were those who took the bible so literally that they saw fit to capture and enslave africans, and there there remains a remnant who tolerate the wars based on biblical precedence.
we are subject to extremists because we have separated our knowledge (science and culture) from our religious beliefs (things we accept "on faith" without critically analyzing them). if religious moderates stand up and defend the teaching of books they don't believe in (like the bible or the qur'an), then they give license to religious literalists to take them to their violent and/or repressive extremes.
no wonder people are so enamored by the areligious discourses of chomsky and fascinated by the hyper-religious shoutings of the open-air preachers. at least these people are addressing the issue!
modern tolerant culture is at once forming and suppressing the expression of a dilemma - while on one hand we are overwhelmed by information and unable to cohesively process it, on the other we are willfully engaging in the internalization of contradictory science and belief.
these two problematics combine for what i would argue is one of the biggest issues facing mankind - for all of our certainty, we can't form a coherent worldview. more than simply tragic, this confusion makes us vulnerable to the loudest propaganda and the most subtle culturally dissolved falsities. if we don't take advantage of our desire for greater meaning, we can have no doubt that someone else will.
|"shawn the baptist" also made an appearance|
at oregon state (photo: fsa osu).