A Nonfiction Book

Belonging Again (Part 25)

Is modern consciousness defined by perpetual “cognitive bargaining” and efforts to avoid “cognitive contamination?”

To quote James Hunter at length from his book American Evangelicalism, which contains arguments that have much wider application than just the religion he focuses on:

When the world-disaffirming qualities inhering in modernity […] reach a certain level, modern people will resist or protest against these discontents.’² Without “given” community, though character isn’t possible nor a certain manifestation of “the banality of evil,” populist backlash that leads to authoritarianism is still likely as people try to reestablish existential stability. And in Pluralism, existential anxiety is great: ‘[w]ith the growing plausibility of the modern world view resulting from the extension of the modernization process in American society, came the increased pressure to accommodate,’ leading to a decline in ‘plausibility structures’ and rise in cognitive dissonance.³ ‘Although only a small percentage of modern people have abandoned a commitment to religious truth, most people in modern societies have at least become deeply perplexed by the ambiguities posed by these structural features of modernity.’⁴ Though religion is one of the clearest examples of community, the problems facing Evangelicals, for example, are the problems facing everyone in Pluralism. ‘The principal constraint structural [P]luralism imposes on religion is privatization,’ but this is arguably what Pluralism demands of everyone’s “ultimate beliefs” — except that is when people privately hold on to “unjust beliefs,” which are occasions that justify violating people’s private spheres and forcing them to reestablish “justice” again (a massively consequential exception).⁵

Audio Summary

In line with the “turning inward” Berger discussed and the arguments of Conyers, Hunter wrote:

Yet privatization generally only solves the problem of pluralism in its political dimensions, not at the cognitive level.’⁷ In fact, privatization very well worsens the existential instability caused by Modernity and Pluralism, increasingly the likelihood of an authoritarian backlash (it should be noted that “turning inward” isn’t necessarily the same as “withdrawing”). Even though Pluralism is irreversible, withdrawing is an option for some:

As privatization occurs — “turning inward” — individuals will increasingly suffer existential destabilization. This is because ‘there is a constant casual reciprocity between consciousness and social structure […] At the level of consciousness, the dynamics of this interaction may be labeled cognitive bargaining.’⁹ In other words, people have to change what they believe into that which is more socially acceptable: they have to change their subjective realities to better “fit” with the social system. As already been discussed, this weakens the “robustness” of beliefs and robs beliefs of “givenness” (helping bring about what Joyce called in “The Dead” ‘a thought-tormented age’). Where there is a significant lack of “fit” there is existential anxiety, but there is also anxiety where people feel like they have to abandon what they believe. Hence, where there is “cognitive bargaining,” there will be anxiety that can make authoritarianism appealing.

Furthermore, ‘it is likely that the cognitive bargaining between the structures and processes of modernity and a religious belief system taking place in the arena of people’s world views would result in cognitive contamination of the religious world view.’¹⁰ In other words, what people believe will be changed and influenced by the outside world, potentially and gradually changes what they believe into something they no longer recognize (causing alienation) or something that no longer (easily) “fits” with their religious texts, traditions, etc. Considering this, ‘[a] rise in apologetic activity can be understood as a tacit recognition of a growing implausibility of religious authority’ (the same can be said of “neoreading,” as discussed in “What is a Judge to Do?” by O.G. Rose): where Christianity is “given,” there is little need for apologetics (though I don’t mean to suggest that apologetics shouldn’t exist: that’s a different topic, and they certainly seem psychologically important).¹¹ The society’s acceptance of LGBT marriage, for example, forces Christians to reexamine the parts of the Bible that they believe forbid LGBGT marriage, and this very act will likely bring into question the authority, reliability, and “givenness” of the whole Bible (in line with what Conyers discusses).¹² Whether this is good or bad, the point is that cognitive dissonance will increase.

To discuss Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age again, I would argue that I personally think “The Nova Effect” (which to Taylor suggests that secularization has unleashed religious belief) is actually like the growth in apologetics, an ironic acknowledgment of the weakening of religion, though it resembles a flourishing. Apologetics is a robust field, making religious intellectual life appear rigorous and growing, and certainly there are some impressive arguments to be found in apologetic works. However, the growth of apologetics can be seen as evidence that religious authority is weakening; likewise, so I believe is the case with “The Nova Effect.”

Taylor’s work claims the past idea that religions would fade away under secularism is proving false, but I believe all that is happening is that the way religion is fading is providing different than what was expected. As has already been argued, religion is dying via inflation versus effacement: it is expanding itself thin and then into nothingness and/or irrelevance, versus shrinking inward and away. Though the amount of religious activity is perhaps increasing, the capacity of religions to function as “plausible” and hence provide existential stability is dropping.

Deinstitutionalization […] is closely related to secularization,’ and secularization ruins religious belief by paradoxically expanding the number of religions: it increases quantity until there is no longer any quality.¹³ Religion becomes a matter of individual conviction and choice, which is to say that it is relegated to the private sphere, and there religion loses its authority over the individual (being created “arbitrarily” and/or accepted by the individual).¹⁴ In this state of anomie, I doubt religion can be fully exercised as what Taylor called a “lived experience,” plagued by existential instability. Ruining “mediating structures” and “plausibility structures,” ruining “givenness” (and hence contributing to the likelihood of authoritarian backlash), secularization is still a major threat to religion (for good and for bad), just proving to be more subtle.

To close this section and to quote him extensively, Hunter wrote:

Our Secular Age is where authoritarianism is ever-appealing.

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Notes

¹Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 13.

²Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 17.

³Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 47.

⁴Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 14.

⁵Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 14.

⁶Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 14.

⁷Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 16.

⁸Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 15.

⁹Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 15.

¹⁰Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 15.

¹¹Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 16.

¹²It should be noted that where a people have failed to understand the meaning of what they believe when there isn’t pressure, it is doubtful they will understand themselves when so pressured, or at least not the majority: pressure, in my view, tends to break the majority. Hence, if people aren’t ready for pressure, when the pressure comes, it is probably already too late.

12.1 I would also note that it is the private sphere that suffers more pressure from Modernity than Modernity suffers from the private sphere.

¹³Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 14.

¹⁴This problem is like what “character” today faces: if what defines character is felt to be “from the self outward” versus “down onto the self,” it loses authority when opposed by individual will.

¹⁵Hunter, James Davison. American Evangelicalism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1983: 14.

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For more, please visit O.G. Rose.com. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram and Facebook.

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O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose