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Can pointlessness really be the point?

Michael Blowhard moseys though a discussion of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, notes that part of his argument (the part MB likes), boils down to “Why, that’s how things have always seemed to me!”, and then asks “What do people really find appealing about Western-style monotheism? What emotional/imaginative thing does it serve?” Why, in other words, do things seem like that to people?

I think that the question as to theism is whether the world seems somehow intended or directed, and whether it seems real or illusory. The two points are very close to each other. We know the world by making sense of it, so if it’s real then it must somehow in itself make sense. If it does, though, then the things in it must be essentially adapted to the mind’s classifying and ordering activity. It’s hard to see how that could be so, though, if there was no mind there when they were constituted. (A bit vague, maybe, but that’s the level at which we’re discussing all this.)

The issue has a personal side. If the world is illusory, then we are too. That applies to those we love as well. So Christian love has an ultimate metaphysical aspect. It says that others are real and important, and their good matters. All of that makes sense if in the nature of things others were somehow meant to be, not only as brute factual existences but also as directed to some end that could be achieved or thwarted. Buddhist compassion in contrast seems to be based on the idea that the illusion of personality has to be done away with because it leads to so much unpleasantness. Different people, I suppose, have a different view of life that makes one interpretation or the other more or less believable.

As an aside, I think one reason many people today have a hard time with the idea of God and prefer the Tao, Brahman, or something yet more impersonal, is that they have a hard time combining the idea of ultimate reality with that of purpose and intention. They end up thinking about God as “some Big Daddy who’s Other Than Us and Out There” (MB’s words). Understood that way God has no religious or moral interest, he’s just a big object somewhere, so they look for something else that seems more infinite because it has fewer qualities that can be named. Maybe it would help them understand theism if they started with their favorite understanding of how things ultimately are and added directedness to it without detracting from its transcendence and infinitude.

As a further aside, I don’t think it’s right to restrict monotheism to the West. Confucius thought Heaven had intentions and did things. He basically liked people, and wanted to know how they could live together better, so it’s natural that his idea of how things are supported his interests. The Taoists had a more impersonal conception and so were more antisocial. Lao Tse said the sage treats the people like straw dogs. There are some interesting accounts in the Analects of run-ins between Taoists and the disciples of Confucius. Confucius’ basic response was that he was a human being and had to lead a human life.

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