by Shihang

Yong Sheng linked to Cheriel’s piece recently and I admit that I had skipped over it when it was first published. But I really shouldn’t have: it’s quite thought-provoking in a rather unassuming way. I thought this might be a good opportunity to clarify some of thoughts about religion.

First, I think Cheriel’s reconstruction differs from Puddleglum’s conception subtly but in a very fundamental way. Cheriel takes it that Puddleglum accepts the uncertainty of his position, but what Puddleglum actually says is:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones…I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.

This of course is a more extreme version of Cheriel’s argument. What Cheriel is saying is based on making an important decision under uncertain circumstances. Puddleglum however would choose to adopt a position based on one stand even after he has rejected it, because “the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones”. I’m having trouble being convinced by this because this is essentially a gamble on which side the Matrix comes down. Suppose that in the film, Neo lives in the Matrix believing that he is living life as a spiritual leader bringing alleviation and joy to millions. Puddleglum would argue that in this case he probably should persist in the Matrix. But I believe that truth is utmost. Truth is what constrains us, gives life purpose and underpins the intellectual project. Well, I for one behave rather more recklessly when I know that my consequences aren’t real, like in a video game for example.

What do I think of religion? I admire the immense poetry of it; I think the Christian mind is a poetic one. Some of the concepts are really quite beautiful and touching, and as Weber manages to convey in the Protestant Ethic, they are supremely formed constructs. And I think all the hard atheists are missing out on a real literary experience rejecting all faith so steadfastly. I still remember my Anglican primary school, singing hymns and enjoying the feeling of being a part of something manifestly greater than ourselves. But I suppose Spinoza supplies this cosmological feeling equally well.

I, of course, do not believe in it. I have a rather terrible impression of organised religion (except for the ritualistic element, which I really like). And I find it difficult to be convinced by the idea. My mind rejects it, no matter how appealing I find it. There was a short comic strip from Flight that I thought really captured my feelings on this: I want to believe, just that I really can’t.