17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Herbert L Calhoun
- Published on Amazon.com
Professor Unger is that rare trail-blazing genius that comes along once in a generation. Like a bolt out of the blue, like a Buckminister Fuller or a Sigmund Freud for instance, he rethinks and resynthesizes everything from scratch, and comes up with his own reformulations. The most obvious contribution to this approach is filling in the cracks between our willful ability to delude ourselves in our own theorizing and his much more careful reformulation of what is actually "out there."
Thus the reader must be forewarned that Unger's theorizing, reformulating and re-synthesizing from scratch, is novel and often lies in the nuances, in the subtleties, in the refinements and in the fine points of his reformulations. Therefore reading him is like trying to see the difference between Newton's and Einstein's theories.
With Unger he too does not simply dismiss the old, but makes mid-course corrections and refinements that may not show up until the fifth decimal point. Despite this, the reader can be rest assured that these subtle refinements, however small they may be, do indeed constitute the "old way" giving way to a "new way," to a new kind of social reformulation, indeed to a new kind of social order. And thus, it takes some effort on the part of the reader to see where he is headed and often the slenderness of the threads that make up the differences between existing theories and the subtly refined theories that he is using to replace them. With that as caveat, here is my summary of this book.
The old Paradigm: "The fear of Death Model."
Because we fear death, we seek visions of the world that will allow us to hold on to, and then live out, an illusion that in some way leaves open the possibility of eternal life. In fact, the author argues here that because we are unable to grasp the totality of the universe, or of our own existence, we anchor and orientate our lives and our world-views around myths and reassuring institutions that confirm our wish-fulfilling thinking about the possibility that we may somehow be able to overcome the certainty of death. We use god and religion to fill in the gaps between what we don't know and the illusions that give us comfort, so that together they help provide a more comprehensive explanation of our fears of nature and our fears of death. As well, they give answers to other cosmological mysteries that continue to bedevil our minds.
Now, due primarily to the scientific revolution, we have a better grasp of nature and as a result, the emphasis of religion has shifted from a preoccupation with the unknowns of nature to the four primary flaws of man: his fear of imminent death; the groundlessness resulting in his failure to understand existence, his inability to understand and explain the beginning or the end of time; and his own social and personal flaws as an individual.
According to Professor Unger, the future of religion lies in our ability to give up our fears and illusions and embrace our mortality. In order to better understand how we might do this, and thus be better able to shape a new kind of social understanding on the backside of these revelations, he focuses-in on what living in a world of illusions has done to man. As he understands it, there are three major responses in the history of human thought to man's four flaws: escapism, humanization, and struggle or confrontation.
Escape from the world has led us to deny our subjectivity, opting instead for a crude kind of objectification of mankind. At the same time, the humanization of the world has allowed us to create meaning out of nothing but our social interactions and an emphasis on our reciprocal responsibilities to each other. This benevolence towards others, however, comes at the expense of an indifference to suffering and change. And then there is confrontation, our struggle to survive in the world. Through struggle, suffering and moral action our illusions teach us to believe that we can be transformed into something near god-like, to a place where immortality is guaranteed. These are the paths of responses that existing religions allow man to take.
Our illusions have been framed as being "spiritual," and this essentially spiritual orientation to our struggle with the world, has left open and given rise to secular movements that seek to emancipate us from our illusions. It is through secular emancipation from our illusions that Unger sees the religion of the future.
Emancipation from the "Fear of Death Paradigm"
The problem, as Professor Unger sees it, is that established religion has not been true even to its own raison d'etre. Consistently it has betrayed its own stated reasons for existing, opting instead for a coziness with the established social order. It has betrayed its own religious tenets and principles by accepting the hierarchies of class and power structures in society. It has accepted the transfer of money as the basis of solidarity. In short, existing religions are more heavily invested in reaffirming and preserving the conservative basis of existing political, economic, and social institutions than they are in promoting the tenets of their respective religion? Thus, in order to redress this institutional betrayal, Unger has proposed that the "new religion" must be radicalized against both established institutions and society's dominant beliefs and hierarchies.
Unger's call is for an "empowered democracy," a revolution not just in our religious beliefs but in our society, one that will reform and transform our market economy, education, politics, and civil society. It will be a revolution designed not to "humanize society," but to "divinize humanity." It will be a revolution that encompasses both individual transformation and institutional reorganization; a revolution that will create change in the life of the individual as well as in the organization of the church and of society. The ultimate goal is to shed all illusions and replace them with a new level of awareness about the possibilities of ordinary life, so that we as individuals, and it as society, may be able to reach a new threshold of intensity and capability.
The first part of the program is that of individual transformation, in which through individual awareness, we awaken from the haze and dreams of immortality. We thus stop reaching for feel good theologies, philosophies and alternatives. The second part of the program of social transformation requires supplementing the metaphysical revolution with institutional practices that create social institutions that allow us to constantly overthrow the constraints of our context, and to make this overthrow not a one time event but an ongoing process. Ten stars