Originally posted by twhitehead
I admit I know next to nothing about Spinoza. I was actually thinking more of Einstein and other more recent people who appear to me to have reasons other than reason to label the universe 'God'. I can think of several reasons which may be wrong - I am just speculating - A desire not to be labeled 'atheist' and thus get shunned by the religious - Many peo rtant about using that word that it is worth the misunderstanding? Why not pick another?
On the one hand, I agree with you about the “current popular meaning”, and in most discourse on here I try to make it clear if I’m drawing on some other understanding of the word; and mostly, I just don’t for the sake of clarity. But that’s a matter of the context of discourse. (Personally, I don’t use the G-word much at all.)
—I also think you’re right about LaVeyian Satanists, by the way.
On the other hand, I don’t see why I—or Spinoza or Einstein or members of some longstanding religious/philosophical traditions that have used “g-words” in other ways—ought to in all cases simply bend to popular usage. Just as I do not see that conventional usages ought to necessarily trump symbolic usages. There is more than one kind of meaningful speech. If I, for example, explain the deliberate Shiva symbology in Kashmiri Shaivism, I see no warrant for someone to claim, “Well, they ought not
to use that symbology, but ought
to express their nondualism in plainer terms.”
Or that Lao Tzu ought not have written the Tao Te Ching
in the style that he did. Or that the Upanishads are flawed when they use theistic terms symbolically.
Most words have multiple definitions, let alone a range of connotations. Some definitions are technical, and restricted to narrower domains of discourse. This is as true of philosophy and religion as it is of science. The meanings of words also can depend on a cultural context. The most that can be expected is that one clearly define how one is using one’s terms, if one is speaking to an audience that might not know.
Let’s take another example from my recent reading: Nietzsche’s (in)famous dictum that “God is dead”. Some literalists might assume that Nietzsche is referring to some supernatural being that was alive and died. But such literalists have simply not done their “due diligence” in reading Nietzsche. To anyone who has done their homework, such an interpretation is absurd. Was Nietzsche trying to be confusing? No. He was being provocative as a way of making a sharp point; whether he was right or wrong is beside the point (from a historical viewpoint, one might judge him wrong—but that, too, is arguable, since that god-concept died for many of us). Was he trying to deceive? Not at all. I place the fault with those who jump to a conclusion without, as I say, doing their homework: if they don’t want to study Nietzsche, that’s perfectly okay—there are lots of things that I am not particularly interested in studying—but then they should refrain from assuming some understanding based on either “popular meaning” or their own particular definitions.
Sometimes I will yield to another person’s definition of a term for the sake of advancing discussion. Sometimes I won’t. Often, when I won’t, it’s because I think they are attempting to impose their definition in a context where I think it results in a misinterpretation—I have offered some examples above.
Again, there are different kinds of meaningful speech. There are different domains of discourse. And there are (and have been) different god-concepts; and which of those concepts is viewed as “conventional” may itself depend on context.
EDIT: I just saw your second post. I hope my over-long post here has provided some examples of context wherein those who use theistic language symbolically, or in other than the conventions of “western” religious discourse, do not intend either misunderstanding or deceit.
I cannot, for example, simply read the Upanishads under the assumption, or expectation, that the rishis
are going to use terms the way I would in everyday discourse—or expect that their tradition ought to have recognized, let alone acceded to, what I may view as “conventional” usage within my own cultural context. My problem, if it is a problem, is that I have spent sufficient time in some alternative domains of discourse, that I sometimes lose the sense of “conventional” usage at all.