Have another serving of kack, this time from good old Rabbi Michael Lerner, he of Tikkun.

In my research on the psychodynamics of American society I discovered that the left’s hostility to religion is one of the main reasons people who otherwise might be involved with progressive politics get turned off. So it becomes important to ask why.

So it becomes important to ask why, but it does not become important to ask why without at the same time carefully limiting the ways in which one asks why, and ruling out in advance the most obvious answer. It becomes important to ask why by suggesting irrelevant answers and ignoring the relevant ones. It becomes important to pretend to ask why, to ask why in a rhetorical, play-bashful way that avoids anything that might make rabbis fretful or worried.

I’ll tell you why I’m hostile to religion (since that is the ‘why’ Lerner is asking, though the way he wrote that sentence makes it look as if he’s asking why people who otherwise might be involved with progressive politics get turned off) before I bother engaging with Lerner’s cautious pseudo-answers. I’m hostile to religion because I think it makes a lot of truth-claims that are false, without ever being particularly apologetic or hesitant or tentative about it, and I get hostile when people expect me (and everyone) to believe truth-claims that there is no good reason to believe. That’s why. I experience that expectation as a kind of mental tyranny, or attempted mental tyranny, and it repels me like a force field.

But Lerner doesn’t offer that as an explanation. He offers three others, instead, and then leaves it at that.

One reason is that conservatives have historically used religion to justify oppressive social systems and political regimes…Another reason is that many of the most rigidly antireligious folk on the left are themselves refugees from repressive religious communities…Yet a third possible reason is that some on the left have never seen a religious community that embodies progressive values.

And that’s it. Next paragraph, he draws conclusions from this exhaustive analysis:

So I am led to the conclusion that the main reason that underlies the left’s deep skepticism about religion is its members’ strong faith in a different kind of belief system…The left is captivated by a belief that has been called scientism…Science, however, is not the same as scientism – the belief that the only things that are real or can be known are those that can be empirically observed and measured. As a religious person, I don’t rely on science to tell me what is right and wrong or what love means or why my life is important. I understand that such questions cannot be answered through empirical observations. Claims about God, ethics, beauty and any other face of human experience that is not subject to empirical verification – all these spiritual dimensions of life – are dismissed by the scientistic worldview as inherently unknowable and hence meaningless.

Sigh. Familiar stuff. Familiar, dreary, feeble stuff. Philip Blond-Dylan Evans territory. What does he mean by ‘the only things that are real or can be known’, for one thing? He probably means something more like testable or reproducible, but that would narrow the definition drastically and make it much too clear that that’s a reasonable, even perhaps tautological, thing to believe, so he has to re-phrase it into something much broader, which merely happens to be something that hardly anyone believes. And then he performs the same trick with ‘unknowable and hence meaningless’. Nonsense. He says the left’s ‘members’ (all of them, apparently – he didn’t qualify the claim with ‘some of’ or ‘many of’) have a strong faith in scientism, then he says that scientism dismisses love, ethics and beauty as unknowable and hence meaningless – so he’s claiming that the left in its entirety scientistically dismisses love, ethics and beauty as unknowable and hence meaningless. That’s a ridiculous, sweeping, wild claim, lightly disguised with the usual hand-waving about meaning and what science can and can’t tell us. It’s absolutely typical of that kind of woolly-but-bossy religious fluff-talk, and I say it’s kack. I can’t measure its kackiness, I can’t empirically observe it, I can’t pick it up and throw it around the room, I can’t put it in a petri dish or feed it to the cat, but I say it’s kack just the same. Therefore, I am a devout theist. QED.

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