4/29/2019—I will have a conversation today with Michael Shermer, the author of The Moral Arc, and other books, for the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series. Michael is a ferocious critic of irrationalisms of all kinds, right and left, from climate change denial to anti-vaccine people.
But Michael does have a particular critique of religion, which he repeatedly emphasizes.
From the perspective of doing something about irrationalism, this inordinate concern about religion is really counter-productive. There is so much good work about the meaning of God that does not involve miracle or any other interference with the laws of nature discovered by science—I am thinking here of David Bentley Hart, for example—that you have to ask someone like Michael, why pick a fight?
This leads to a larger question—how does someone like Michael actually engage irrationalism?
I hope to ask Michael about Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit who died in 1984. Lonergan was the author of, among other books, Insight and Method in Theology. Lonergan was very interested in the kind of decline that we are experiencing now. He suggested that part of the response has to be cosmopolis, which is discussed here. Mark Miller describes cosmopolis as “a redemptive community that would motivate people on a cultural level instead of attempting through economics or politics to impose new social structures.” This community is not one that occupies a particular geographic area or is composed of any one profession or discipline. It is a loose formation of people from different walks of life who all see and confront the decline that is all around them.
Cosmopolis differs from the current opposition movements against President Trump. It does not have a program in that sense. It does not look for redemption from any such quarter. Its main focus is on the clarity of thinking. Even that, however, is a misleading formulation because, for Lonergan, thinking includes a form of life in Wittgenstein’s sense. It is as much a matter of character as of cognition. One could say that only a certain kind of person in a certain social context is really adequate to the emergency in which we find ourselves.
My question to Michael is, how to build cosmopolis? I don’t believe that the current form of criticism that Michael practices helps us get there. Dr. King was a person who could build community. Even if the moral arc is entirely a human creation, it still requires community. Secularism is really bad at this. But religion is really good.