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Crypto-Current Religious Becoming with Jacob Lyles

Jacob Lyles works in the Silicon Valley crypto space. He was raised a Jehovah's Witness, went secular, then went Christian. We talk about  Silicon Valley, the problems with secularism, and why the pull of religion is more rational than people think.

Jacob is on Twitter: @cryptochamomile. Jacob hosts the podcast Unchartered Life and the Youtube show Conversations with Chamomile.

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The Devil Is in the Denial

The religious, who possess only tacit knowledge of the pragmatic truths inhering in religion, should be forgiven their occasional intellectual backwardness, for the same reason we forgive the idiocy of someone who recently suffered brain damage in a car accident. The religious today are still in a state of cognitive whiplash from the scientific revolution.

A great deal of what the devout feel is no longer expressible in terms they can justify, but this is because science updates fast and wisdom updates slowly. Wisdom is a crystal leftover from that which goes fast and fails. The scientific revolution is a supernova that is still exploding; religion, as encoded wisdom, will never "keep up with" what is explosive, even if — for all we know — it turns out to be vindicated after the dust has settled.

In their whiplash, those who insist on the truth of religion despite modernity are often guilty of misdirection. Rather than give science all of its due and admit the consequences, the religious often insist despite their rational conscience (telling themselves this is the meaning of "faith"). It seems to me that if, despite everything, there remain honest religious people today, then they would have to admit that the epistemic character of their own religiosity is itself an utter mystery. Obviously, it was never justified by science but now it no longer even enjoys the social conditions for its traditional functioning as an extra-rational social-pyschological structure. It's hard for me to see how religious experience today could be something other than the experience of making no sense, which does not mean there do not still exist real religious people or that one should not be religious—it only means that if a religious person today makes too much sense, I doubt them. One may believe in God, but this belief is weak indeed if one cannot also admit that God is dead. These cognitively aligned religious types, these blessed souls who make good sense to themselves, it is as if they have closed their eyes to the empirical phenomena that can be summarized as the murder of God, which would mean their faith is little more than willfully out of date information.

Mary punching the devil in the face (13th century). Credit: ChurchPop, Public Domain via the British Library.

Insisting that God is not dead in a world in which God has been killed, tends to manifest as a neurotic dissimulation of unstated instrumental motives (and it often is). The religious are correct to be religious, I believe, but they tend to dissimulate on the grounds that only the human folly of overzealous science has made them wrong, and so it is just and true for them to ignore human follies as if they have not occurred, even if those follies have in fact taken over many national majorities the world over. The stubborn dedication of the devout is impressive but unfortunate, because it contributes to the impression that science is "right" and religion is "wrong," at best a dubious symbolic game that's not exactly up front about its real cognitive-emotional character, probably serving some ulterior purposes. Faith that does not confront the death of God is a signal that falls beneath the noise-gates of all modern communication.

The devil is winning, and the religious are failing to update, because the religious are too devout to let themselves be as wrong as they truly are. Allowing oneself to be wrong is a necessary precondition for updating; coming to terms with the degree to which science has rendered religion wrong, is a precondition for religion to determine how its truth might once again be correctly expressed.

Catholicism as Nomad War Machine (Deleuze and Chesterton)

Chesterton:

Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life.

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.

Chesterton on smooth space:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…

Chesterton on the refrain:

If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything.

A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street.

As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out.

Theology and experimental method

I think tomorrow morning I will take the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). It will be the first time for more than 15 years. Why not? I will do it with absolute sincerity, but also reflect on it afterward as an experiment I am conducting on my being.

High-IQ rationalists often look down on religion, but does scientific rationality not obligate one to conduct experiments with religion? To reject religion on a rational-scientific basis, without periodically varying your exposure to religious treatment, is to make inferences from what a social scientist would call a truncated independent variable. If your phenomenological database has zero cases of religous treatment — if there’s no variation on your independent variable — then your model’s predictions for its dependent variable (the estimated rationality of religious commitment) are likely to be biased.

So what if I’m afraid of death

I must admit to feeling afraid of death. I am drawn to religious belief, in part, because I think I do want help with my fear of death. I don’t see why it would be an intellectual violation to want such help, and to experiment with solutions coming from beyond rational justification. If understood properly, I don’t think such recourse to the religious is intellectually dishonest or irrational (although it may be extra-rational).

I recently got high before flying in a plane and I thought a lot about dying. If this plane goes down, I thought to myself, I would much prefer to have an already developed and practiced confidence facing this experience, to die with calm and grace. I suppose it is possible to enjoy such a cool composure, in the face of death, through a rationalist practice of life, but in my view thus far I don’t see how it’s possible. So long as one’s orientation to human experience is organized centrally around the search for ever greater rational coherence, the moment of death must always be, at best, an unfortunate and bewildering event. For it cuts off the rational search, and in that moment one can know nothing other than the futility of reason in the final analysis. How this could produce anything but a sad and childish frenzy of confused anxiety, I really cannot imagine. I would quite like for it to be an exhilirating and exalted moment in which I genuinely believe that all is exactly as it should be. Looking around and considering my options, as a living person who could die any day, it seems that some kind of genuine religious commitment is the only available method of securing such a graceful end.

Religion is an extra-rational condition for the possibility of rationality

G.K. Chesterton happily understood in advance what the Frankfurt School theorists only observed with great horror after the fact. Namely, that without an authority such as the Catholic Church, placed above the orbit of merely rational calculation and willing to enforce ethical standards over its head, human reason will not last very long. This is because the freedom of human beings to think is itself extra-rational; if you want to install and protect the capacity for humans to think freely and rationally, you cannot avoid taking recourse to extra-rational measures, or dark defences.

The creeds and the crusades, the hierarchies and the horrible persecutions were not organized, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason. They were organized for the difficult defence of reason. Man, by a blind instinct, knew that if once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. The authority of priests to absolve, the authority of popes to define the authority, even of inquisitors to terrify: these were all only dark defences erected round one central authority, more undemonstrable, more supernatural than all — the authority of a man to think. (Orthodoxy)

At times, Chesterton sounds exacty like the Frankfurt School, e.g. “There is a thought that stops thought.” But unlike secular critiques of capitalist culture, Chesterton is willing to make the ethical inference that we are rationally compelled to endorse extra-rational measures in order to forestall the collapse of the world.

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped. That is the ultimate evil against which all religious authority was aimed. (Orthodoxy)

Of course, nearly all secular social justice activists believe in the necessity of dark defences, which explains why there is so much motivated reasoning and bad faith alongside so much public moralizing. The various forms of subtle dishonesty intrinsic to modern social justice discourses are merely the paltry, diluted, late-stage Protestant version of Catholic authority: the right to enforce extra-rational measures, in the service of some greater good. What postmodern political culture teaches us, today, is that true non-religious secular culture is essentially impossible. The choice is only between varieties of disingenuous Protestantism — implicitly dissimulated, various, and competing — or one true Church, true only in the tautological sense that it is invested with the authority to define what is True beneath and beyond all that is true.

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