Were I a wiser person, perhaps I'd take Robert M. Jeffers' response to this post as definitive (if not as a good-natured rebuke). But if George W. Bush taught me nothing else, he taught me that compounding one's errors is a surefire path to glory.
Despite the fact that it doesn't actually appear in my earlier post on apocalyptic thinking, I'm going to offer this as my basic stance:
[T]he real problem with apocalyptic thinking - right and left, secular and religious - is that it's an abdication of responsibility...people would rather give up the world than accept responsibility for it.RMJ quotes Derrida to more or less the same effect:
Religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all. Its history derives its sense entirely from the idea of a passage to responsibility. Such a passage involves traversing or enduring the test by means of which the ethical conscience will be delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric. In the authentic sense of the word, religion comes into being the moment that the experience of responsibility extracts itself from that form of secrecy called demonic mystery.Which sounds, to my tin ear, as though it involves a Kierkegaardian moment of seeing responsibility as incompatible with wallowing in the aesthetic pleasures of "the mystagogic and enthusiastic."
If so, that's OK by me. And I see no reason to restrict it to the religious imagination. I'd classify the fatalistic faux-detachment typical of a certain secular approach to world catastrophe as "mystagogic and enthusiastic." The same goes for the aesthetic response to what, elsewhere, I've pompously called the Dystopian Sublime. I feel like there's a self-aggrandizing stance here of superior discernment - of connoisseurship of ruin, and competitive consumption of disaster - that treats the result of bad planning decisions (or greed, or evil) as a sort of Duchampian readymade that can be signed by anyone, and offered as a commodity. That's one secular form of "the initiatory and the esoteric," to my mind. There are others.
As for the fundamentalist forms of "demonic mystery," they're obvious enough, I'm sure, not to require discussion.
So far, so good. But Derrida (in discussing Jan Patocka), says religion, properly so called, comes into being when "the ethical conscience" is "delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric." Which perhaps says a great deal, and perhaps not quite enough. At this point, one wants to understand the difference between religion and "the ethical conscience." Or, failing that, the similarity between them.
I'm willing to see notions of right and wrong as metaphysical - how could I not be? - but I feel like I also have to make some sort of distinction between religion - even in Derrida's "authentic" sense - and ethical conscience...partly because this sort of discussion is incoherent to most people without it, and partly because Derrida and Jeffers both recognize (e.g., in the story of Abraham) that faith can "require" a betrayal of worldly ethics (with all the historical trouble that entails). It's reasonable - in a rather bland sort of way - to argue that we're all religious, inasmuch as we heed our consciences even in cases where it's inconvenient or unpleasant to do so. What it's not, necessarily, is illuminating.
Religions in general, and Judeo-Christian religions in particular, are systems that involve a belief in one or more higher powers. To atheists, this belief partakes, if anything does, of "the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric." In rejecting these "demonic" beliefs, while achieving and maintaining a certain level of responsibility towards the Other, could an atheist inadvertantly reach some sort of apotheosis? In other words, religion may be responsibility, but does this mean that responsibility is religion?
I doubt that in asking this question, I've done much more than reveal my own shallowness. But as someone who deeply resents the "greedy reductionist" attempt to co-opt every form of human experience (and to legitimate itself with forms of argument and evidence that it sneers at in other contexts), I don't want to turn around and do something similar to atheists, by treating their ethical convictions as evidence of God's tender mercies.
And yet...what other language than the religious do we have to express the idea of responsibility, in its fullest sense? Beats me.