What Does That Even Mean?!

The Need for and Construction of a Metaphysical Definition of Religion

 

Thomas Webster, MDiv candidate, Southern Methodist University

Abstract: The proliferation of religious systems in the modern world is plainly identifiable. Using various definitions of religion to argue that the task of defining religion, regardless of the accuracy of the proposed definition, can be greatly impaired by the definer’s potential use of the definition, this paper contends that a universally applicable, metaphysical definition of religion is needed.

 

The proliferation of religious systems in the modern world is plainly identifiable. Regardless of cultural or geographic location, the plethora of religious traditions – some of which claim exclusive access to the “Truth” – has lead to questions of the legitimacy of such claims; the interrelatedness of the various traditions; the seemingly inescapable impact on and role in the society in which the religious system can be found; the understanding of the term religion in the face of such diversity in truth claims, beliefs, and practices. The focus of this work is on the latter of these potential questions. Initially inspired by classroom discussions as to the nature of religion and spurred on by my work with the first chapter of Clifford Geertz’s 1973 book The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays for that class, this paper uses various definitions of religion to argue that the task of defining religion, regardless of the accuracy of the proposed definition, can be greatly impaired by the definer’s potential use of the definition. Following this argument is its corollary. Due to the nature of the task of defining religion, namely that the definition can be and often is constructed to serve the definer’s purposes rather than the greater need for a definition of religion, a universally applicable, metaphysical definition of religion is needed.[i]

For such a discussion to occur, I find it necessary to first look at Alister McGrath’s work on the task of defining religion from the fourth edition of his textbook Christian Theology: An Introduction in conjunction with Anthony C. Thiselton’s entry, “religion, religious experience,” from the 2005 volume, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion. Following these opening remarks, the discussion will include a collection of various, cross-disciplinary definitions of religion, in which I will identify important characteristics of each definition using terminology and theory supplied by both abovementioned authors. This analysis aims to elucidate those characteristics which distinguish a definition as servant of its author’s needs. Finally, the 1926 work of Alfred North Whitehead in Religion in the Making, will guide a discussion of the necessity of such definitions to be metaphysically grounded. It is from this discussion that a definition of religion will be offered.

The Task of Defining Religion

Anthony C. Thiselton has remarked, “Until around the middle of the twentieth century a number of textbooks on the philosophy of religion began with a section under some such title as ‘Definitions of Religion’.”[ii] The waning of the use of such sections is due, according to Thiselton, to the growth of post-modernism and the increased recognition of three difficulties to the task. Thiselton’s states these three difficulties as:

1. The growth of diversity and pluralism: “a growing understanding of diversity and pluralism, and a reaction against over-easy generalization”;

2. The difficulty of value-neutral knowledge and understanding: “it is difficult to go as far as we need in terms of supposedly value-neutral knowledge, let alone value-neutral understanding”;

3. The increased substitution of sociological criticism in favor of philosophical or theological reflection: “especially in post-modern thought the view that religions serve vested interests of social power has led some to substitute a sociological or ‘ideological criticism’ approach for more philosophical or theological approaches.” [iii]

Alister McGrath echoes the final two of these difficulties when he calls for the recognition of the rarity of neutral definitions of religion, saying that definitions “are often generated to favor beliefs and institutions with which one is in sympathy and penalize those to which one is hostile,” and when he briefly mentions the growing division between definitions whose focus is on the function or the substance of religion.[iv]  Before continuing with McGrath, it is useful to briefly note that the fourth and fifth sections of this paper will address Thiselton’s stated difficulties by proposing a definition of religion constructed from a detached, neutral approach.  A brief discussion of how such an approach is able to assuage both the concerns of Thiselton and McGrath comprises much of the fourth section.

McGrath notes two inherently different approaches in the definitional task of religion that have been consistently practiced in academia. He terms these two approaches detached and committed.[v] The former approach “seeks to give an account of the religions from the standpoint of philosophy or the social sciences, or from a loosely ‘religious’ perspective” and is the category under which much non-theological scholarship concerning the nature of religion finds itself.[vi] When read in conjunction with Thiselton’s difficulties of the task of definition, I believe this approach can find very little difficulty in producing a definition through value-neutral language and understanding that takes seriously the issues of pluralism and the post-modern pitfall of over-generalization. Such an advantage, however, encounters great difficulty in Thiselton’s third category, for it can forget the theological or philosophical task of a religious tradition, effectively sterilizing the truth claims made by respective religious traditions in favor of completely anthropocentric and mechanical definitions of interaction and society. The latter, committed, approach noted by McGrath “seeks to give an account of the origins and functions of religions from an explicitly Christian [or other faith-based] perspective” and is often the type of approach employed by theologians who seek to assert the truth claims or specific doctrinal worldview over and above others.[vii] The committed approach almost inherently fails to define religion in value-neutral terms and cannot, by nature of the definer who takes such an approach, develop a definition with the seemed objectivity of a philosophical or sociological criticism. The distinction made by McGrath between these two approaches is extremely helpful in the initial categorization of definitions of religion while the three difficulties noted by Thiselton – and their corollaries in McGrath – provide a useful rubric against which to grade the appropriateness of a definition, notably that an adequate definition should be one which avoids “over-easy generalization,” while also aiming for “value-neutral knowledge [and] understanding.”[viii] However, along with the difficulties named by Thiselton, many definitions of religion that do find themselves constructed with attention to value-neutral understanding while avoiding over-generalization still face criticism.

Definitions of Religion as Servants of Their Authors

Alister McGrath notes that “definitions of religion are rarely neutral.”[ix] As the products of authors who are themselves products of certain socioeconomic and sociopolitical backgrounds, schools of thought, and/or religious traditions, these definitions “are often generated to favor beliefs and institutions with which one is in sympathy and penalize those to which one is hostile.”[x] Even an attempt at the most sterile of sociological definitions of religion is biased by the author’s awarding of value to the methodology and goals of a sociological definition over the merits of theological or philosophical reflection. McGrath uses Anthony Giddens’s work as exemplar of such a detached and “objective” approach to defining religion, but he ultimately notes that “Giddens’s concern as a sociologist is simply to document the phenomenon of religion, without imposing a restrictive interpretive framework upon it.”[xi] This concern, while quite valuable in the discipline of sociology, limits the use of Giddens’s definition to that discipline. Other definitions, whether philosophically, theologically, or anthropologically grounded, suffer from similar limitations. In this section, I will analyze a variety of definitions of religion, identifying characteristics of each using terminology from both Thiselton and McGrath. From these characteristics, the potential limitations of each definition as well as the potential benefits of each definition will be made clear.

I begin with Robert Bellah’s definition of religion from his 1964 essay, “Religious Evolution.”[xii] In it, Bellah offers the definition of “religion as a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence.”[xiii] Given the context of his writing, Bellah’s definition is quite fitting. From a detached approach, Bellah establishes a functional definition with the goal of ultimately illustrating the evolution of religious systems from earlier, primitive symbolic structures to more complex symbolizations characteristic of later religious traditions.[xiv] The definition he offers is constructed so precisely for his argument that his discussion of religious evolution will focus on the symbolization rather than the religious human or “the ultimate conditions of [that human’s] existence.”[xv]  He notes soon after defining both evolution and religion that “religious evolution” in no way means the evolution of the religious human – especially not in terms of late nineteenth century social evolution – nor the ultimate conditions to which the symbolic forms and acts that constitute religion relate. He writes,

The purpose of this definition is to indicate exactly what I claim has evolved. It is not the ultimate conditions…nor is it man…Neither religious man nor the structure of man’s ultimate religious situation evolves, then, but rather religion as symbol system.[xvi]

Here, Bellah’s definition finds its limit. His definition of religion cannot be used as definitive without also doing the work of the evolutionary symbolic interactionist that accompanies it. It cannot be completely separated from its original intent as an element in a discussion of evolutionary theory of religion.

Following Bellah’s definition, I now want to give attention to Schleiermacher’s 1799 definition of religion as cited from On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1893) by Thiselton in A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion. Schleiermacher notes that “religion is not ‘craving for a mess of metaphysical and ethical crumbs,’” but rather “is ‘a revelation of the Infinite in the finite.”[xvii] He focuses on the nature of “pure” religion as a “sense and taste for the Infinite.”[xviii] Schleiermacher’s definition is substantial, focusing on the complete dependence of the finite on the Infinite. It, ultimately, is also constructed from a committed approach and suffers from the difficulties characteristic of other committed approaches. Whereas Bellah’s definition was limited to its work as an element in a discussion of evolutionary theory of religion, Schleiermacher’s definition is limited by its reliance on the revelation of the Infinite. Such a revelation can certainly constitute the basis of a religious system, but, by declaring such revelation as solely constitutive of religion, Schleiermacher does not incorporate religious traditions whose basis is grounded in materialism, philosophical principles, and/or ethical persuasions rather than the revelation of the Infinite.[xix]

I would be woefully inattentive to the task of defining religion if I neglected to include a definition formulated from the humanist perspective in this discussion. While a number of classic humanist definitions of understanding exist from notable sociological, anthropological, and philosophical thinkers – Feuerbach, Marx, Kant, and Durkheim to name but a few – this discussion will work with the definition of religion offered by Loyal Rue in his 2005 book Religion is Not About God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological Nature and What to Expect When They Fail.[xx] As the title suggests, Rue argues that religion, inherently, has nothing to do with God, gods, or supernatural entities. He opens his discussion with the following:

If religion is not about God, then what on earth is it about (for heaven’s sake)? It is about us. It is about manipulating our brains so that we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively. Religious traditions work like the bow of a violin, playing upon the strings of human nature to produce harmonious relations between individuals and their social and physical environments.[xxi]

Rue differs from some other humanist theorists and works to offer no value judgment either way on the existence or nonexistence of God and the commitment to religious life. His definition is also quite clear. He makes the argument for a functional definition of religion from a detached approach. His interests lie in the explanation of human systems of narrative, ritual, and experience through an appeal to naturalism as he unashamedly employs the “guess-and-test approach” as his methodology.[xxii]

As with the other notable humanists mentioned, Rue’s definition is inexorably tied to his understandings of the societal order as human construction and/or an ordering of social phenomena. It could even be argued that Rue’s commitment to naturalism negates his detached approach, seeing him formulate a definition from a committed approach, instead. I disagree. Rue remains detached, unlike Marx, because he offers no value judgments on the religious life and the existence or nonexistence of a supernatural being. However, similarly to Bellah, his definition is limited by its reliance on the further work done from the naturalistic perspective. While it constructs no restricting framework through which to interpret religious traditions, Rue’s definition does rely heavily on the acceptance of his structure of meaning and human-societal interaction. Such human-societal interaction can be argued as culturally relative and, thus, cannot ultimately provide useful information as to a universally applicable understanding of societal forms and structures.

Finally, I wish to examine the definition of religion provided by Alfred North Whitehead. Admittedly, this definition will act as a transition into the discussion of the need for a metaphysical understanding of religion, yet I find his definition also of interest given the three definitions already discussed. In the first chapter of his 1926 book, Religion in the Making, Whitehead briefly defines religion as “force of belief cleansing the inward parts”; “a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended”; “the art and the theory of the internal life of man, so far as it depends on the man himself and on what is permanent in the nature of things.”[xxiii] Accompanying these preliminary definitions is a final one. He writes, “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness,” and its corollary, “If you are never solitary, you are never religious.”[xxiv]

For Whitehead, there are four factors or stages of religion – ritual, emotion, belief, and rationalization. The latter of these is the point at which religion transforms from being an essentially social activity and becomes essentially solitary. The three antecedent factors all contain a predominant social consciousness at the heart of their ideology which confuses rightness “with the notion of preservation. Conduct is right which will lead some god to protect you; and it is wrong if it stirs some irascible being to compass your destruction.”[xxv] The communal religion is necessarily concerned with the maintenance and preservation of the community. At first, Whitehead notes, the rituals, and the associated myths, emotions, and beliefs, were “barely disengaged from other human interests.”[xxvi] They acted as another extension of societal movement.

It is here where the scholar committed to religion-as-phenomenon finds the end of the role and action of religion. Indeed, even some non-phenomenalist scholars can accuse Whitehead’s move to solitariness as unnecessary and inadequate. Thiselton notes that

Pannenberg insists that if religion speaks of God as Creator, theology has an intellectual obligation to engage with issues of universal truth and coherence. If divine action occurs in the world, [as Whitehead’s metaphysic necessitates that it does] this is not merely ‘inward’, but concerns the public domain.[xxvii]

Such a critique certainly seems well-made. This distinction from societal to solitary appears to neglect the metaphysical and theological assertions made in other places regarding the divine relativity toward and involvement throughout the mortal. However, Whitehead’s final factor is more nuanced than a simple negation of the communal religious structure. For Whitehead, this final factor, rationalization, is “the adjustment of these beliefs [beliefs formed from reflection on the experiences, myths, and rituals of the society] into a system, internally coherent and coherent with other beliefs.”[xxviii] Rationalization is not a cloistering off of the individual from the society. It is the internalization of and critical reflection on the mythical, ritual, emotional, and belief structures of that society in relation to the individual. Furthering illustrating that rationalization is not the closing off of the individual, Whitehead argues that it is this fourth and final stage in which the religious consciousness transcends those around to encompass what he terms “world-consciousness.”[xxix]

Whitehead, however, is not immune to criticism. His definition, too, is constructed to serve his study of religion. He works from a detached approach to provide a definition which is both substantial and functional. He is a metaphysician of the highest order, and his definition elucidates this as it also elevates the importance of the rational human mind in the emergence of religion. His definition is metaphysical in nature and, as such, “endeavours to express the most general concepts adequate for the all-inclusive universe.”[xxx]

Though I agree with the Whiteheadian terms regarding the four factors of religion – ritual, emotion, belief, and rationalization – his assertion as to the necessary fixation and gradation of the factors, with rationalization as the ultimate, troubles me. Trapped in the context of the early twentieth century, Whitehead’s theory of the growth of religious tradition over the four courses he mentions can certainly be read as the product of social evolution. Whitehead’s examples of the various factors of religion, too, point to a value-laden commentary on the nature of religious traditions. Here his definition seems to falter more so than the other three examined. If proven as such, Whitehead’s definition is not only rendered inadequate as a definition of religion, it is rendered fatally inadequate.

As is previously discussed, however, I believe the nuanced move made by Whitehead in his definition of rationalization – the fourth factor of religion – to be critical. It is because of this fine distinction that emergence into rationalization is much more than yet another early twentieth century restatement of social evolution with Christianity and Buddhism at the pinnacle of its tower of progression. Along with the subtle elucidation that rationalization is the personalized internalization of myth, ritual, emotion, and belief, rationalization is also, by nature of its being the personalized internalization, applicable throughout creation. Here, Whitehead’s definition does what the definitions of Bellah, Schleiermacher, and Rue cannot – it can stand apart from its book; it can apply to the individual without the individual’s assent to revelation; it can be found to be true regardless of the societal or cultural structure in which it is examined. For this, Whitehead’s reliance on solitariness is crucial. The personal rationalization that for Whitehead is so necessary need not occur only in Christianity and Buddhism.[xxxi] The critical reflection necessary for such internalization of the myths, rituals, emotions, and beliefs are inherent to the human mind, a product of the creative Creator. As such, the animist, Roman Catholic, and Muslim alike have the capacity for such reflection and certainly do critically reflect on their own traditions, liberating themselves from the bonds of communal religion. It is in this rationalization that the religious individual is world-conscious. It is here where the “concept of the goodness of God replaces the older emphasis on the will of God.”[xxxii] Here, where, “rationalized under the influence of the world-concept, you study his[/her/its] goodness in order to be like him[/her/it]. It is the difference between the enemy you conciliate and the companion whom you imitate.”[xxxiii]

The Need for a Metaphysical Definition of Religion

Alfred North Whitehead opens the third section of his Religion in the Making with the statement, “Religion requires a metaphysical backing.”[xxxiv] I find his call for the doctrines and dogmas of religious tradition to be rooted in a rational metaphysic important for and applicable to a critique of definitions of religion even though his focus is on the whole of religion as the solitary act of the rationalization and internalization of myth, ritual, emotion, and belief.  I use the definition of metaphysics also provided by Whitehead as my working definition of metaphysics. His definition reads, “The science which seeks to discover the general ideas which are indispensably relevant to the analysis of everything that happens.”[xxxv]

Given this definition and the work of both McGrath and Thiselton, I argue that there is a need for a definition of religion to be such which is metaphysical in nature, constructed from a detached approach, and critically reflective on meanings and structures. The importance of such a definition lies in its metaphysical nature and the detached approach of its author. Thiselton’s remarks as to the difficulties of formulating a definition of religion in the current age point all too clearly to this importance.[xxxvi] A metaphysical definition does not face the difficulty of over-generalization, and it must seek a value-neutral understanding of the object defined. Keith E. Yandell mentions the importance of a neutral definition of religion. He writes,

A neutral definition will not presuppose some particular answer to any of our substantial philosophical questions. It will not presuppose that some particular religious tradition is true (or false) or that no religious traditions are true (or false).[xxxvii]

Through attention to the neutrality of the definition, such a definition also can be cleanly extracted from its source and adequately applied in all situations, as it offers “analysis of everything that happens” and challenges the rational mind to “step beyond [its] little patch of immediacy.”[xxxviii] A metaphysical definition, when constructed well and with proper attention given neutrality and generalization/specification, can also offer an account both of function and substance. Yandell correctly notes that the focus of social science definitions of religion tends toward functionality while theological, doctrinal, and, some, philosophical discussions tend toward claims of substantiality. “These approaches are supplementary, not competitive,” he writes.[xxxix] In the following section, I offer a definition of religion influenced by Whitehead and Recinos that reflects the nuance of Yandell’s commentary.  The definition proposed in the following section is able to avoid overgeneralization while acting as both a substantial and functional definition due precisely to Yandell’s characterization of a detached, neutral approach.

The Construction of a Metaphysical Definition of Religion

I addressed in the previous section the need for a neutral definition of religion which is constructed from a detached approach and finds itself offering some account as to both the substance and function of religion. This section seeks to answer the question What is religion? I offer this definition: religion is the solitary interpretation, internalization, and application into an interpretation of life of the myths, rituals, emotions, and beliefs concerned with the ultimate issues of existence and specific to a cultural group; witnessed in the expression of such through its own set of rituals, institutions, and practices. Rooted in the solitary actions of interpretation, internalization, and application, this definition is functional. However, it also speaks to the substance of religion. It is a solitary enterprise concerned with the understanding of and response to the ultimate problems of existence.

Unlike Whitehead’s static gradation of the four factors of religion, the progressive relationship from ritual to emotion, then emotion to belief in the process of critical reflection is not fixed. Myth permeates ritual, emotion, and belief, and it is in the work of interpretation where the solitary being is able to glean from the latter three the truths of the former. The internalization and application of the resulting interpretation is of chief import. The mere interpretation of stories or events, though ultimately grounded in metaphysical presuppositions, is characteristic of general knowledge acquisition regardless of the process of critical reflection. Whitehead notes that “the difference is that religion is the longing of the spirit that the facts of existence should find their justification in the nature of existence.”[xl] The sciences, chiefly concerned with the facts of existence, need not engage in the internalization or application of those facts so long as the facts are empirically correct.[xli] Religion, by contrast, is utterly dependent upon the solitary being’s internalization and application. It is so due to its concern with the ultimate issues of existence. That there are fifty chairs in this lecture hall at the time that this paper is being written is of little or no consequence without reflection upon that fact’s influence upon and relation to ultimate concerns of existence.[xlii] It is in this “longing for justification” that religion distinguishes itself from other disciplines, and it is this longing that can be done only by the solitary, rational mind.

Conclusion

Broadly understood, the task of defining religion has yielded definitions from two distinct approaches – detached and committed. Due to the nature of the task of defining religion, namely that the definition can be and often is constructed to serve the definer’s purposes rather than the greater need for a definition of religion, a universally applicable, metaphysical definition of religion is needed. The guidance of Thiselton and McGrath elucidated that the task of definition, while done from a detached or a committed approach, must also be cognizant of the avoidance of over-generalization while seeking value-neutral understanding. Using the definitions of religion offered by Bellah, Schleiermacher, Rue, and Whitehead, this paper has demonstrated the nature of most definitions as servant of the definer’s purposes, often reticent on the nature of things not included in the definer’s original purpose. Following this analysis, an appeal to the need for a definition of religion grounded in metaphysical claims was made followed by the construction of such a definition under the influence of Recinos, Whitehead, and Yandell. Finally, it must be noted that the need for such a definition is not nearly as great as the fulfillment of it. Without the rational, critical reflection on the claims made by rituals, emotions, beliefs, and the permeating myths therein, the religious is merely their blind follower.

 

NOTES


[i] Throughout this paper, I follow Whitehead’s understanding of metaphysics: “the science which seeks to discover the general ideas which are indispensably relevant to the analysis of everything that happens.” Alfred North Whitehead, “Body and Spirit,” Religion in the Making: Lowell Lectures, 1926 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1996) [originally published by The Macmillan Company, 1926], 84.

[ii] Anthony C. Thiselton, “Religion, Religious Experience,” A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 255.

[iii] Ibid., 255-56.

[iv] Alister E. McGrath, ed., “Approaches to Religions,” Christian Theology: An Introduction, 4th ed. (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 447, 448.

[v] Ibid., 446-47.

[vi] Ibid., 446

[vii] Ibid., 447

[viii] Thiselton, “Religion, Religious Experience,” 256.

[ix] McGrath, “Approaches to Religions,” 447.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Robert N. Bellah and Steven M. Tipton, ed., “Religious Evolution,” The Robert Bellah Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 23-50.

[xiii] Ibid., 24.

[xiv] Bellah makes a concerted effort to note that his use of primitive is in no way a value judgment made against the peoples and symbolic systems of such an era. It is, rather, an historical distinction used to demarcate “early” religious traditions from “later” religious traditions. Ibid., 25.

[xv] Ibid., 24.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Thiselton, “Religion, Religious Experience,” 257.

[xviii] Ibid., 258.

[xix] I feel that it must be noted that Schleiermacher’s definition is, by far, the oldest definition that I work with in this section. I also feel that this limitation is partially because of its age. It would be interesting to see if and how Schleiermacher would adapt his definition given the developments in scholarship in comparative religion, philosophy of religion, and pluralism since his construction of this definition at the end of the eighteenth century.

[xx] Loyal Rue, Religion is Not About God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological Nature and What to Expect When They Fail (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005).

[xxi] Ibid., 1.

[xxii] Ibid., 125. I must admit I was originally skeptical of this method. However, he makes a convincing argument to its usefulness as well as its precedent in the natural sciences. Such a method and his defense of that method further concresces his place as a humanist theorist as well.

[xxiii] Whitehead, “Body and Spirit,” 15-16.

[xxiv] Ibid., 15-16.

[xxv] Ibid., 41.

[xxvi] Ibid., 18

[xxvii] Thiselton, “Religion, Religious Experience,” 259.

[xxviii] Whitehead, “Body and Spirit,” 18.

[xxix] Ibid., 41

[xxx] Ibid., 83.

[xxxi] I note Christianity and Buddhism because, for Whitehead, these are the two rational religions. I would argue with Whitehead that the process of rationalization is not limited solely to these two religious traditions, only aided and abetted by them to a greater extent than in more communal religions.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Whitehead, “Body and Spirit,” 83.

[xxxv] Ibid., 84.

[xxxvi] Thiselton’s “Three Difficulties” can be found on page 2, accompanied by footnote 2.

[xxxvii] Keith E. Yandell, Philosophy of Religion: A Contemporary Introduction (London: Routledge, 1999), 16.

[xxxviii] Whitehead, “Body and Spirit,” 84.

[xxxix] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 17.

[xl] Whitehead, “Body and Spirit,” 85.

[xli] This is, certainly, not to say that critical reflection doesn’t occur in the sciences. The ultimate end of such reflection, however, is markedly different in that it is chiefly concerned with the empirical replication and demonstration of facts.

[xlii] To answer a couple questions: Yes, I did count all 50 chairs. And, at the fear of offending the chairs, I hate to break it to them that not only does the fact that there are 50 of them have little impact on the ultimate concerns of my existence, further reflection confirms their diminutive influence on those concerns. Sorry, chairs. I would like to note my appreciation for a semi-comfortable place to sit while doing such reflection, though.