This page is an archive from the previous version of The Row Boat, which is why it doesn't look and work the same as the current version. However, these archives are fully functional and integrated with the new system.
Why does this site permit advertising?
Click here to discuss.
Powered by Little Logger
The Row Boat
"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Mark Taylor Interview Online
A little plug: My recent interview with Mark C. Taylor, one of the leading mavericks in the religious studies world, is now online over at Religion Dispatches. It mainly deals with his new book, After God. Here's an excerpt:
RD: A friend of mine saw me reading After God and asked, "So what's after God?" I promised I'd ask you. How would you answer?
MT: I always like titles that mean more than one thing. The word "after" means at least two things. It means that which is subsequent to, and it can also mean being in pursuit of, as in going after something. So it plays on both of those meanings of the term.
Religion is everywhere on people's minds these days, but the level of public discourse about religion, I think, is pretty low. Many of the people both who defend religion from various points of view, as well as those who criticize and attack it, have an understanding of religion that is pretty rudimentary. Most of what the critics of religion are attacking these days, people like Dawkins and Hutchins and Sam Harris, is really a banal form of religion. Part of what the book does is to develop a notion of religion without God, without that kind of traditional theistic God.
"After God" also suggests the way in which religion is often most influential when it is least obvious. There is a religious dimension to all of culture. It isn't just about what goes on in churches and synagogues and mosques, but also what is involved in art, literature, and even things like financial markets. This is about trying to expand the sense of what religion is. The title is all those at once.
re: Mark Taylor Interview Online - 5/12/2008 21:15:09
Posted by BT
...what the critics of religion are attacking these days, people like Dawkins and Hutchins and Sam Harris, is really a banal form of religion. Part of what the book does is to develop a notion of religion without God, without that kind of traditional theistic God...
OK, I'm restraining myself from *really* ripping into MCT, but it sounds to me like he's still making pretty simplistic assumptions himself -- as if a "traditional theistic God" must be limited to the articulations the "new atheists" give it, or to his own personal taste? This to me is just more of the same old Heideggerian b.s., claiming to establish a difference in kind between "onto-theology" (MCT agreeing with Heidegger) and some less "traditional" form of mysticism (his "...does not itself arise & pass away" passing reference), a difference that ultimately never even holds-up within the texts or history of the traditions in question themselves. To me he's no more sophisticated than the "new atheists" in that regard, in that basic condescending gesture, but just happens to cite & have the patience to address snazzier sources.
His interest in social issues is commendable, but that's not at all dependent on his claims about the existence or non-existence of a theistic God -- as if a theistic God is somehow automatically less "relational" than a no-God?! In other words, a theistic God need not be limited to being *either* "transcendent" *or* "webby". That claim -- the whole "thesis" of his book, alongside "everything having a religious aspect"?? -- is just lazy on his part. It doesn't completely diminish what he's trying to address, but his "different kind of schema" -- his own personal metaphysical taste, basically -- is certainly no less banal. (The debates about the relation between immanence and transcendence -- not to mention the relation itself?! -- have been playing themselves out long before words like "webby" were around.)
I know this sounds harsh, but I seem to have lost all patience for this Heideggerian stuff from folks like MCT, claiming to be *less* banal than what's already in the traditions they themselves are data mining for Heideggerianisms and quasi-metaphysical claims...
(no subject) - 5/12/2008 21:53:02
Posted by BT
Posts at another blog which delve into some of MCT's own banalities:
re: Mark Taylor Interview Online - 5/15/2008 11:16:54
Posted by nathan
I don't think I can quite answer all the frustrations you raise - nor to I particularly have such love for Taylor to give me desire to. Yours and Taylor's are two quite different viewpoints, at most levels irreconcilable, as they say. But more to the point, there is an emotional clash. It sounds like his self-assurance as he prances through the history of thought is what irks you so much, combined with the circumstance of disagreement. But I'm not one to psychoanalyze. Maybe he reminds you of your father, for all I know!
Here's how I read what Taylor has on the New Atheists, rather than a superior metaphysics: he is willing to grasp with religious ideas in their historicity, with a certain balance. He is willing to see them, to borrow words from Nietzsche, "beyond good and evil." The history of religious ideas becomes not something to simply abhor but something to take account of, to trace the effects of in our present. In After God, at least, he doesn't make a grand apology against supernatural metaphysics. He plainly assumes it at the outset. The perfectly defensible reasons for this can be found in any number of places. As I read it, the over-simplicity he rejects is one that attempts to attempt to either banish or claim ownership over God. The difficulty is that God, whatever the word means, allows neither.
You're right, he's quite alongside Heidegger in this regard. Heidegger's early lectures on Paul and Augustine clearly show how much Being and Time owes to religious phenomenology. And Heidegger insists that there is no contradiction in making a pre-(is that the right prefix?) religious philosophy out of religious sources. Whether the gods exist or not, we live under something like the same gods of the believers. Our worlds and languages are formed by them.
I don't think either is claiming to be, as you say, less banal than the traditions from which they draw - Taylor speaks of folks like Luther and Paul (etc) with much higher regard than that. But he is definitely speaking to his contemporaries - fundamentalist theists and atheists, for instance - and claiming to disagree with how they interpret their past and their world. I think that is wholly within his right.
re: Mark Taylor Interview Online - 5/15/2008 20:59:40
Posted by BT
You're right, it's just a matter of irreconcilable starting points.
My main beef is just the presumption of his self-understanding, that he's somehow 'honoring the complexity of religion' while really making just as many metaphysical presuppositions as the "onto-theologists" (re: as if the references to "divine milieux," "the rising and passing away that does not itself arise and pass away," "the infinite creative process" don't involve their own particular metaphysical presuppositions). I also just don't buy that a "traditional theistic God" inherently requires a static, "traditional" metaphysics (vs. someone like Whitehead, etc., or aspects of Eastern thought, also -- which of course Heidegger likes to appropriate as if he discovered it all himself). As the posts on "Perverse Egalitarianism" summarize, it's the combination of the b.s. & presumption & banality that's what's over-the-top, to me (*especially* when it comes to speaking of God, of all things). (It's as if someone is casually destroying a whole landscape while simply declaring "not to worry, it's for your own good, I happen to understand this," etc. But the irony is the actual *lack* of the presumed sensitivity or nuance, by assuming all theism is a virtual fundamentalism from the get-go, etc.)
But, to each their own. I would try to also get into his use of contemporary science and network/information theory, as if the jury is already in on all of their metaphysical implications, but I really will stop picking on MCT's thought (until the next full post on him, at least?!).