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We'd have to define respect. I can't see a major difference - in my interpretation -  between respecting rights to hold a belief and respecting the belief itself.

Respect does not mean agreeing with, or not challenging a belief. But I believe a little more mutual respect in this world would go a long way to solving some of our more intractable problems. The kind of respect that I refer to involves understanding the other person's point of view - how it has evolved and what are the philosophical drivers behind it.

And I believe that all human beings deserve respect AS A BIRTHRIGHT. What are human rights about, if not that?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jun 21st, 2007 at 10:26:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe that all human beings deserve respect AS A BIRTHRIGHT.

I think we all agree on that. But respecting a person (or a group of persons) and their right to have their own belief is not the same as respecting an ideology, religious or not. I respect Communists, I don't "respect" communism. In fact I don't know what respect means applied to an ideology or a belief.

You say:

There is no threat from Islam, if we offer it the respect that it deserves

I beg to disagree: There can be threats from Islam, as well as from Christianity (or communism) when they try to impose their rule on others. I has happened in the past and it could still happen.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Thu Jun 21st, 2007 at 11:50:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, mon ami - now we get down to the real discussion: the separation of ideology from individual struggle.

The dichotomy is illustrated here
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=PTO0ZON1BQJV5QFIQMFSFGGAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/200 7/06/21/wnkorea121.xml

It is the story of a North Korean boy who was born in the cells of Camp 14 in Pyeongan province. It was the only world he knew. His mother and brother tried to escape and then he was tortured and forced to watch their public execution. He blamed them for his troubles thereafter. It was the only world he knew. It was the only cosmos he knew.

But somone later came into the camp and explained that there was a world outside. He and a companion later decided to escape to find this other world. They found themselves working in a lightly guarded area. They ran for it. His companion hit that not-understood electrical fence first and died, but in doing so made a hole in the fence, that, though Shin Dong-Hyok suffered terrible burns, made it possible for him to escape and find the freedom he sought.

What a metaphor!

The fact that any ideology represents a threat through the accumulation of unbridled power, does not, imo, affect my argument. We are all human, and that peer to peer 'respect', discussion and questioning could serve to limit the accumulation of 'unbridled power'.

Isn't that what ET is about? ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jun 21st, 2007 at 03:04:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I believe that all human beings deserve respect AS A BIRTHRIGHT. What are human rights about, if not that?

Whatever happened to the word 'tolerance?' Tolerance is, indeed, a birthright (although arguably not an inalienable right; stabbing someone with a knife would, for example, forfeit the stabber's right to be tolerated by society - this lack of tolerance is usually represented by locking him up and throwing away the key).

By saying that respect is a birthright, it seems to me that you are either conflating the terms respect and tolerance or you are claiming that I violate Grossayatollah Ratzinger's human rights by holding him in contempt (since I consider contempt and respect pretty much mutually exclusive qualities). The former is linguistic sloppiness, the latter is frankly ridiculous.

We'd have to define respect. I can't see a major difference - in my interpretation -  between respecting rights to hold a belief and respecting the belief itself.

Permit me, then, a couple of examples.

I do not respect Mister Dick Cheney's views on corruption and corporate cronyism. In point of fact, I find them vile, contemptible and disgusting, which by any reasonable definition of terms precludes respecting them.

I do not respect Grossayatollah Ratzinger's views on - well on most things, but reproductive rights, the role of religion in society and the civil liberties of GLBT people are probably the most obvious points of disagreement. In fact, I find his views contemptible and below the level of discourse I expect from civilized human beings. Which, again, pretty much by definition precludes my respecting them.

I respect both Ratzinger's and Cheney's right to hold their views, however, in the sense that I believe that it would be morally wrong to attempt to silence them through the use of force (the flip side of that coin, of course, is that if Herr Ratzinger or Mister Cheney attempt to use force to silence their critics, they are morally as well as legally culpable).

By way of contrast, I do respect the view that religion and science form non-overlapping magistraria, even though I do not agree that it is a tenable philosophical position. I respect it because it is a civilized, mostly reasonable position that can be argued without resorting to too many obvious logical fallacies.

In other words, respect is what you extend to ideas and people that are, on the whole, civilized and respectable but with which you are not necessarily in agreement. I find very little about most religion [1] respectable or civilized, and hence I do not extend my respect to it. Tolerance? Certainly. Respect? No.

Respect does not mean agreeing with, or not challenging a belief.

No, but it does signify considering the belief worthy of discussion or consideration in polite company. Certain beliefs - such as the belief that condoms should be outlawed - are so clearly and obviously insane that they do not merit such respect.

But I believe a little more mutual respect in this world would go a long way to solving some of our more intractable problems. The kind of respect that I refer to involves understanding the other person's point of view - how it has evolved and what are the philosophical drivers behind it. [emphasis in original]

In a world where every human had infinite time at his disposal (as well as infinite patience for silly pursuits), this attitude would be commendable. In the real world, I do not need to go through the exact details of a perpetual-motion-machine proposal to know that it is nonsense, nor do I have to look up every reference in a creationist screed to realise that said creationist is lying through his teeth, and I do not need to analyse every sentence a politician says to know that he's lying to me (although if he's reasonably competent, I'll have to analyse every sentence he says if I want to prove it).

Similarly, when a religious nutjob argues that his religious feelings take precedence over other people's freedom of press and peaceable assembly, I don't have to study his theology and philosophy to realise that he's beyond-the-fringe crazy.

While I have followed the 'debate' over whether hurt feelings should trumph civil liberties fairly intently, it is entirely possible that I have missed a stunningly compelling argument against my position. So far, however, all I have heard is veiled threats (a.k.a. the risk of terrorism will increase if "we" continue being "disrespectful" of "them"), arguments from oppression (a.k.a. an oppressed people is always right) combined with copious amounts of special pleading (a.k.a. no, no, criticizing the [insert random religious figure] for his insane views is OK, but blasphemy against [insert random other religion] is soo bad).

I have heard those lines before, I have understood them, I still don't agree with them, and I am friggin' tired of being told that I have to 'respect' or 'understand' views that would under normal circumstances be considered batshit insane, simply because the guy espousing said insanity also happens to claim that he is extremely pious. I'm so very sorry for hurt feelings (well, not really...), but pious nonsense remains nonsense first and foremost.

- Jake

[1] I use religion throughout this post as a term for certain social trends and/or political organisations and private corporations (Scientology and the Roman Catholic Church are prominent examples of the latter) - I'm not taking any stand on any particular theological doctrine here, inasmuch as it does not affect the political stance and role of the religion in question (and I would argue that most theology affects neither).

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jun 21st, 2007 at 09:46:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was pretty much in agreement with your take on this issue until I came to this passage:

While I have followed the 'debate' over whether hurt feelings should trumph civil liberties fairly intently, it is entirely possible that I have missed a stunningly compelling argument against my position. So far, however, all I have heard is veiled threats (a.k.a. the risk of terrorism will increase if "we" continue being "disrespectful" of "them"), arguments from oppression (a.k.a. an oppressed people is always right) combined with copious amounts of special pleading (a.k.a. no, no, criticizing the [insert random religious figure] for his insane views is OK, but blasphemy against [insert random other religion] is soo bad).

I'm not sure what to make of it because I don't think anyone on this thread is advocating "hurt feelings should trumph civil liberties". During the mid- late 90s there was a tone of Political Correctness that some wingers argued tended to do this kind of thing, limiting valid discourse so as not to offend a particular group, but I don't see that much anymore--at least not in the US. If anything, a perversion of the phenomena is happening, where certain representatives of fringe elements of a particular group get much more air time while the vast majority of that group --who happen to be sane, civil, and worthy of respect --are virtually ignored.

Two cases in point. Recently, Christine Amanpour  went out of her way to do a report on Islamic radicals in Great Britain, she interviewed  a transitional figure who at one pointed advocated violent jihad against the West, etc., but of course, the vast majority of Islamic clerics are opposed to the use of violence --especially against innocents. Their voices in these matters are hardly heard. Here's a snippet from Amanpour's write up:

In our investigation, we found shocking evidence of the bigotry, intolerance and hatred preached by some Muslim fundamentalists in the UK. We met men like Anjem Choudary of the now-banned Al-Mahajiroon extremist group, who denounces democracy and predicts Britain will be ruled by Sharia, Islamic law.

He publicly distances himself from suicide bombings here in the UK, mindful of Britain's tough new anti-terrorism laws, yet we filmed him openly condoning violent Jihad abroad.

"I happen to be in an ideological and political war," Choudary said. "My brothers in al Qaeda and other Mujahedeen are involved in a military campaign." (Watch a call for Islamic law in Britain )

This is hardly being 'bashful' for fear of hurting a particular group's (1.61 Billion Muslims) feelings.

Here's another instance. The Catholic church is a huge and ideologically complex institution. That is, there are threads throughout the Catholic tradition that are not very conservative at all (contra Ratzinger)...they argue for work with the poor, (Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers), political liberalism and various softer forms of socialism (Liberation Theology) and strongly disapprove of militarism (Ploughshares movement, represented by Phil and Dan Berrigan), ecumenicalism (Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich and other Catholic thinkers and theologians). Yet in the US, as perhaps in Europe, much of the Catholic tradition is understood only vis a vis its absolutely insane stance on birthcontrol and family planning matters in general.

Again, if you were to take a poll, I think you'd find that the majority of Catholics --at least here --don't identify with the Pope's rigid ideas about contraception--I would suspect that most find them--as I do--frankly, insane.

But contraception as well as abortion have almost become a 'signature' issue for the Catholic church--an identifier. Just as violent jihad has become a kind of signature issue or identifier for Islam. In both instances, it's actually fringe elements within the group that end up identifying and speaking for that group, which I think is the reverse of the special pleading that you're talking about. (Admittedly in the case of the Catholic church, the 'fringe' element isn't that fringy because unfortunately, it happens to be its very  obdurate and conservative hierarchical head).

One last thing, I think you're mis-characterizing a generally persuasive argument that we have to address the political, social and economic roots of  terrorism if we ever hope to 'defeat it' when you write:


"So far, however, all I have heard is veiled threats (a.k.a. the risk of terrorism will increase if "we" continue being "disrespectful" of "them")

Understanding and addressing the roots of violent behavior in any society is ultimately about the survival of that society and doesn't have much to do with respect or disrespect at all; to want to understand what causes a terrorist's behavior and to try and address it is simply a mark of social and political sanity.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 10:30:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was pretty much in agreement with your take on this issue until I came to this passage:

I should probably have marked that paragraph with a [snark][/snark] tag. I admit that I was venting a bit there.

I'm not sure what to make of it because I don't think anyone on this thread is advocating "hurt feelings should trumph civil liberties".

It is entirely possible that you're right. In fact, given that you know all involved better than I do (if for no other reason then by virtue of your having been a regular on ET longer than I), you very probably are right. It's just that clichés like 'treating [religion] with the respect it deserves' raise a lot of little red flags in my mind - particularly after this very line was used over and over and over again during the Cartoon Jihad in early '06 - by precisely the people who were arguing that we should stop spitting religious madmen in the eye to avoid upsetting their tender sensibilities.

During the mid- late 90s there was a tone of Political Correctness that some wingers argued tended to do this kind of thing, limiting valid discourse so as not to offend a particular group, but I don't see that much anymore--at least not in the US.

Our perspectives differ somewhat on this, I think. I agree with you that political correctness is not the overburdening problem of Western society (and frankly, good riddance). I also agree with you that some of the backlash against the norm of political correctness has been extreme (think Ann Coulter, Jörg Heider and our own Pia Kjærsgaard).

The problem is, however, that in the area of religion, we have not quite gotten rid of 'political correctness.' People's unsupported assertions are accorded an almost postmodernist credibility so long as they profess sufficient piety. Think, again, Ann Coulter. Or "Dr." Kent Hovind. Or, for that matter Bush 28.

(The scare quotes around political correctness in the preceding paragraph is due to the fact that religious apologetics has been around much longer than political correctness - I really don't think the two have much to do with one another, but I lack a better term for the undue reverence bestowed upon apologists.)

Another problem is that the nature of (modern) politics is that debates get polarized into two camps, split neatly along party lines. I largely blame the media for this. It would be highly unfortunate if the left were to start supporting anti-secular Muslims simply because the right opposes them and wants to bomb them.

Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened in many cases during both the Rushdie crisis and the Cartoon Jihad. Part of this may be due to the fact that saying 'I think the ayatollahs are crazy, but bombing Tehran is probably counterproductive' is too long for a soundbite by about a factor of three, it was often shortened to simply 'don't bomb Tehran' - while an admirable sentiment in and of itself, in the context of the debate it looked too much like bending over backwards to please a bunch of madmen. That being said, however, there really were fairly prominent people who argued that it would have been better if Rushdie had just kept quiet. And that's problematic, to put it very mildly.

I will concede that I very likely overreacted. I tend to get a bit (over)sensitive to people on 'my side' of the political spectrum repeating lines that I associate strongly with anti-secular apologetics.

A final disclaimer: I am not comparing the artistic quality of the Satanic Verses to a bunch of editorial cartoons - that would probably be demeaning to Rushdie's work. I simply use this as an example to broaden the scope of my argument a bit.

[snipped for size]

This is hardly being 'bashful' for fear of hurting a particular group's (1.61 Billion Muslims) feelings.

True. Then again, I would argue that one of the roles of the media is to shine the light of day on such vermin. The problem, as I see it, is not so much that they report on the Muslim madmen more than on the Muslim moderates - that's hardly surprising, since moderation is considered default behaviour. The problem is that they don't turn the same critical light on the neo-nazis, the Opus Dei or the bigots who assault and frequently attempt to murder GLBT people.

The impression that Islam is uniquely violent and bloodthirsty stems, I think, not so much from the reporting on Muslim extremists as from the embarrassing failure to report on almost all other kinds of extremists.

Here's another instance. The Catholic church is a huge and ideologically complex institution. That is, there are threads throughout the Catholic tradition that are not very conservative at all (contra Ratzinger)

That's certainly correct. One might privately wonder why they remain Catholic when they disagree with the doctrine that seems to an outsider to be the single most important feature of the Catholic Church, namely Papal authority. But hey, that's none of my business, and if it floats their boat...

...they argue for work with the poor, (Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers),

I have more than a few reservations regarding organisations that combine charity and missionary work. But let's leave that discussion to another day.

political liberalism and various softer forms of socialism (Liberation Theology) and strongly disapprove of militarism (Ploughshares movement, represented by Phil and Dan Berrigan), ecumenicalism (Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich and other Catholic thinkers and theologians).

In fairness to Herr Ratzinger, he does not strike me as a militarist. And in fairness to his predecessor, JPII actively distanced himself from the notion of militarism. And while we're on the subject of being fair to the Pope, he's actually pretty ecumenical (although not as much as JPII). In fact, given Herr Ratzinger's extremism in most other areas, I would personally prefer him to be a bit less big on ecumenicalism, but that's also another story for another day...

Yet in the US, as perhaps in Europe, much of the Catholic tradition is understood only vis a vis its absolutely insane stance on birthcontrol and family planning matters in general.

I think it is valuable to the discussion to distinguish between the Catholic Church (i.e. the corporation and upper-level clergy) and Catholics in general. The former is - pretty much by definition - in agreement with Herr Ratzinger (or whomever else wears the silly hat at the moment). The latter run the gamut of walks of life and political positions. Put in these terms, the Church must be opposed - sometimes with the aid of the majority of Catholics - but the laity (is that the right word?) should be evaluated on their individual merits, which may run from the atrocious (think Ratzinger) to the agreeable (think Ken Miller or J.F. Kennedy).

I think (or at least hold the probably forlorn hope) that many Europeans are able to distinguish between the two. And I think that to any American with a political memory that goes back to Kennedy, the distinction should be crushingly obvious.

But contraception as well as abortion have almost become a 'signature' issue for the Catholic church--an identifier. Just as violent jihad has become a kind of signature issue or identifier for Islam. In both instances, it's actually fringe elements within the group that end up identifying and speaking for that group, which I think is the reverse of the special pleading that you're talking about.

The special pleading I was talking about is in the sense of the logical fallacy by the same name. This logical fallacy can be employed by both majority and minority groups.

Furthermore, I would question whether those elements are as much of a fringe as you seem to argue: Who was, for instance, the last US president who did not pay at least lip service to the Christian Right? Which Mideast government does not pay at least lip service to the radical jihadi? (OK, I can answer the last question, Egypt doesn't, neither does, AFAIK, Lebanon or Jordan. Syria, I don't know about. But I can't off the top of my head think of any other that don't occasionally toss the nutters a bone to keep them semi-contend.)

One last thing, I think you're mis-characterizing a generally persuasive argument that we have to address the political, social and economic roots of  terrorism if we ever hope to 'defeat it' [...]

That was not my intention. I fully support trying to understand what pisses people off. I merely argue that there are some things we should not compromise on simply to prevent pissing people off (or, for that matter, compromise on at all). For example, it is the inalienable right of any human being to ridicule religious leaders and religious icons, or political dittos. If this pisses people off, then we're just going to have to live with the resulting terrorism (and I mean 'live with' as in 'accept as a fact of life' not as in 'go bomb some brown people when it happens').

Understanding and addressing the roots of violent behavior in any society is ultimately about the survival of that society and doesn't have much to do with respect or disrespect at all; to want to understand what causes a terrorist's behavior and to try and address it is simply a mark of social and political sanity.

I mostly agree with that, except for the implicit premise that terrorism is a real threat to our society. As someone who posted by the handle of downunder newt said on DailyKos:

The overriding message which I'm trying to convey can be summarized like this:  Terrorism is not a legitimate threat to Westerners.  There are almost no terrorists in the world who want to kill us, statistically speaking.  We know this because any dispassionate examination of the state of Western society should be telling us that if there were large numbers of terrorists who wanted to kill us, we'd be under constant, unrelenting attack.  And we aren't, so there isn't.

I haven't run the numbers, but I strongly suspect that the number of terrorists is statistically indistinguishable from the number of people who take a shotgun into a high school and gun down their classmates. Bombthrowing lunatics will find something to hang their hat on whatever we do, so I don't see why we should compromise with them. By all means, try to find out what drives them. But why change policies for the benefit of less than .1 per cent of the population, who will likely be violent lunatics whatever we do?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 07:25:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorta 100% in agreement, and yet thinking:

"The anger that comes across is...."

..you know the saying?  Where's there's hate, there's a relationship.

When you give up on something, when you think, "This has no more validity for me," rather than arguing with it, one tends to move simply...away...into other areas.

Those who have a beef with religion, in my experience, are those who grew up within its poisonous claws.

Those who are happily without the "One God, One Heaven, One Rule Book, One Hell" version of human events are...

less irritated by religions.

And I think, I honestly think that an indian brit like Salman Rushdie could be doing better things with his time than accepting baubles from the UK establishment.

He could've refused the thing!

He could've pointed out the...

Hey, what happened to Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy?

But no....

The posh set the rules, the poor get fucked over, and religion is always there...when conflict arises.

A friend said tonight, "Religion thrives on conflict."

I feel the need to quote Rumi.

O SUN, fill our house once more with light!
Make happy all your friends and blind your foes!
Rise from behind the hill, transform the stones
To rubies and the sour grapes to wine!
O Sun, make our vineyard fresh again,
And fill the steppes with houris and green cloaks!
Physician of the lovers, heaven's lamp!
Rescues the lovers! Help the suffering!
Show but your face - the world is filled with light!
But if you cover it, it's the darkest night!

http://www.rumi.org.uk/



Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri Jun 22nd, 2007 at 08:45:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorta 100% in agreement, and yet thinking:

"The anger that comes across is...."

..you know the saying?  Where's there's hate, there's a relationship.

[...]

less irritated by religions.

Religion (or, if I want to be consistent with my use of the term, piety) is not what irritates me, per se. It's the demands we hear from some quarters for political concessions towards religion.

You seem to surmise that I am a deist or atheist. While I try to avoid commenting on my own philosophical positions when debating the role of religion in society (because such comments, I've found, tend to muddy the waters), I fail to see where you got that idea. I cannot find a place in my writings here where I have said anything not said by liberal theists and theistic rationalists, as well as deists and atheists. Re-reading my post, it's probably fair to assume that I'm not a catholic and not a republican, though :-)

And I think, I honestly think that an indian brit like Salman Rushdie could be doing better things with his time than accepting baubles from the UK establishment.

Of course. In fact, I was somewhat surprised that he accepted to take part in that show. But methinks we're wandering far afield here, since the criticism, such as it was, was focused mainly on the fact that the order was awarded in the first place. The question of whether to accept distinctions like knighthood and medals is a big subject that many people have written volumes on. I'd rather not go there right now.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 05:46:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice and persuasive response, thank you. I appreciate the time you took in getting back to my quibbles over your previous remarks.

A few comments: understanding and addressing the roots of terrorism may or may not equal a change in "policies for the benefit of less than .1 per cent of the population, who will likely be violent lunatics whatever we do..."

However, on balance, if such a change (and I'm not thinking of anything that would radically change our constitution --that in fact we have wrongly and sadly already implemented -- but rather of varying tweaks of foreign policy) could lessen the number of potential hotheads that might start using 'terrorist' tactics, it certainly seems to me to be worth looking at. Like your buddy at dKos, Robert Wright, the author of an excellent book called NonZero has opined that terrorism and the terrorists threat is really just a numbers game. Whether the conversion factor by which highly hateful Muslim adolescents become terrorists is one in 10,000; or one in 100,000--I'd argue it's nevertheless a concern because of an important point that I think you're too easily discounting:

For the foreseeable future, smaller and smaller groups of intensely motivated people will have the ability to kill larger and larger numbers of people.

This is due Wright argues to a number of factors, easy access to lethal wmd type weapons, biological weapons, dirty bombs all of that, but also the increased ability to learn about these weapons and doing a kind of on your own basement bomber thing via the info that's readily available over the internet. Plus, of course, the internet can also be used to easily 'rally the troops' as it were.

So taken to together I think the 'threat' factor is worth consideration, but there's one other point Wright brings up that maybe will bring this argument into sharper focus:

The number of intensely aggrieved groups will almost certainly grow in the coming decades of rapid technological, and hence social, change.

He leaves off some of the darker visions that I would add coupling, for example, the effects of peak oil with global warming on already stressed populations all over the world.

Placating that .1% is important because today's angry adolescents are tomorrow's terrorists.


Sure, only one in 10,000, or in 100,000, of these adolescents stays angry enough to become a true terrorist, especially a suicidal one--and of that subset, only a fraction is smart, well-educated, and disciplined, and thus as dangerous as a Mohamed Atta. But it doesn't take many Mohamed Attas to markedly lower the planet's quality of life. So, keeping hundreds of thousands of adolescents from getting hateful today could save hundreds of thousands of Americans 10 or 20 years from now.

Not to mention what it might do for the rest of the world. And if we can do that by adjusting certain foreign policy initiatives (leaving Iraq, for example, weaning overselves off oil, balancing our very lopsided Middle East policy)it might save us from becoming locked into a model that will generate terrorist and terrorists wannabes for generations to come -- when the easier and currently available solution may not even be possible or within our control.

Those are all arguments from self interest. But of course, there's always the possibility that doing the right thing by ameliorating or resolving the demands of those disgruntled 1% is simply the right-- as in the ethical -- thing to do.

On another note, I think the tendency of both Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists to be 'prickly' disguises a deeper problem in their world view. I think both tend to look at religious doctrine as the ultimate authority over state authority. This is a fairly compelling problem and it seems to me this is what a large portion of your commentary hints at. I personally wouldn't mind seeing a diary fleshing out some of the themes you've outlined in this round of posts (with perhaps examples from both sides of the river  Xtians/Islam, their 'prickliness', what I would suggest is a by product of their insistence on religious authority over state authority,  etc...)-- I'm not saying I agree with your take on this, entirely, of course, but I do think it certainly warrants more discussion. Cheers!

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 12:08:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice and persuasive response, thank you. I appreciate the time you took in getting back to my quibbles over your previous remarks.

Nice of you to stay with me all the way through. I was thinking 'this is getting waay too long' when I posted it, but I was too tired to bother going back and cutting stuff out.

Whether the conversion factor by which highly hateful Muslim adolescents become terrorists is one in 10,000; or one in 100,000--I'd argue it's nevertheless a concern because of an important point that I think you're too easily discounting:

For the foreseeable future, smaller and smaller groups of intensely motivated people will have the ability to kill larger and larger numbers of people.

This is true. And all the factors you list as contributing are certainly there. But the fact remains that so far, the median major terrorist attack kills 50-100 people and strikes less than once a year. Unless you wish to propose an almost exponential increase in either the number of terrorists or our ability to kill each other with products that can be bought in the local supermarket, there's a long, long way just to get to the point where riding the subway becomes equally dangerous to riding a car to work. 9/11, in this respect as in many others, is a far outlier - basing our policies on it is in many ways like basing your policies on coastal tourism on the '04 tsunami.

So, keeping hundreds of thousands of adolescents from getting hateful today could save hundreds of thousands of Americans 10 or 20 years from now.

Not to mention what it might do for the rest of the world. And if we can do that by adjusting certain foreign policy initiatives (leaving Iraq, for example, weaning overselves off oil, balancing our very lopsided Middle East policy)it might save us from becoming locked into a model that will generate terrorist and terrorists wannabes for generations to come -- when the easier and currently available solution may not even be possible or within our control.

I agree with you that we should implement such policies. No argument there. But we should implement them because they are so clearly right and just policies, not because some terrorist bogeyman is out there. The fact that they will, in the long run, also reduce terrorism is just a happy coincidence. Further, I would argue that even if those policies would increase terrorism, we should still implement them, because they are so clearly good policies, and terrorism is such a minor issue.

But if you want to use the terrorism factor to convince some conservatives to start supporting alternative energy, I'm not complaining in the slightest :-)

On another note, I think the tendency of both Islamic fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists to be 'prickly' disguises a deeper problem in their world view. I think both tend to look at religious doctrine as the ultimate authority over state authority. This is a fairly compelling problem and it seems to me this is what a large portion of your commentary hints at.

Precisely. This is precisely what I've been trying to say. Except that I don't really think being prickly disguises that view - it kinda seems to me to broadcast it loud and clear.

And while we're in the splitting hairs department, there is also a milder form that's still virulent: Some people seem to think not so much that their religious convictions are the ultimate authority on how to run society (i.e. on how other people should behave), just that they're superior to the secular laws (in the sense that they must always be permitted to do whatever their religious convictions tell them without interference). The end result is probably the same, but I don't think it's completely fair to the latter group to bunch them together with the outright theocrats.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 06:18:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm doing my best to follow this. Unfortunately real world stuff is intervening. I've had a poke or two at the "religion is evil" argument and am quite interested in doing a diary on what is religion. I'm not sure I can pull it off. My background is not particularly academic, and certainly not in religion.

The distinction between government and religion and their roles need to be made, but it is not an easy distinction to make. Religion and government share the same role. What is a church but a government on a very small scale, or in the case of entities like the Catholic Church - not so small a scale?

I think I can trace any religious function onto the US government and US society - including faith (American exceptionalism, American creation myth), texts (American constitution), piety (nationalism), prostelization (war in Iraq), ritual (the electoral process, pledge of allegiance) and so on.

Of course there are conflicts between government and religion. In Canada rare but re-occurring conflict concerns refugees. The government often wants to ship them back. Various churches give them sanctuary and defy the government. I am not sure I want to 100% reign in religion. It provides an interesting check on the power of government.

From a religious point of view I wear several hats. I could be called a Jewish atheist Quaker. Not by any means an unknown combination.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 10:16:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hadn't thought of the tension between government and religion as being terribly useful until you brought up the sanctuary example. Then it occurred to me that perhaps one of the most energizing forces in our civil rights movement here (which I think most will concur was a good thing) was, in fact, religion. MLK, a preacher, spent considerable time in state jails. His "Letters from a Birhmingham Jail" are still read today. Many conscientous objectors rely on the authority of religion (or conscience) to defy the state's rule. Ghandi & Thoreau, of course, are right in line with this tradition. Yet, they all thread an important needle. While denying the state's authority over their actions, they suffer the consequences of breaking the state's laws willingly: MLK did not try to avoid jail time. When Emerson went to visit Thoreau in jail (he refused to pay his taxes that would end up funding the Mexican war) he famously said "Henry, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau replied, "Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?" So religion in the sense of carrying our ethical selves in opposition to state rule can be valuable. But Keirkegaard has done us the good work of noting that religion plays in two realms: the ethical realm and the spiritual realm. I'm watering down quite a bit, but as I understand it, conventional religion becomes relevant at a societal level in the ethical realm. It becomes individualized, and frankly incomprehensible to rational discourse at the spiritual level (see Keirkegaard's notes on Abraham & Isaac) so the thrust of my argument might be something like this. At the ethical level religion has an important ameliorating role to play in opposition to state government if necessary; it can deny the validity of certain laws based on persuasive ethical arugments, but cannot assume the 'authority' of the state in absolving the consequences of breaking those laws--because religion get its ultimate authority not from the ethical realm but from the spiritual realm, which, as I've tried to suggest, cannot be universalized. States that are agreed upon organizational units are based at least in theory on the concept of universalization and the rule of law. So the ultimate authority for the ethical realm is logically the state. Christianity pretty much accepts this, (or at least it used to ... Render onto Caesars what is Caesars, etc.)I'm not entirely convinced other traditions see it this way so that's probably why we're having this discussion.

The bottom line is we may all agree that building missiles is bad (based on either ethical or religious convictions), we may all decide to try and stop the building of missiles through sabotage etc., but when and if we are caught, I would suggest it's incumbent upon the civil disobedient to accept the authority of the state because at the societal level, the rule of law must be maintained. Our action becomes an appeal to the ethical nature of the people who make up the state to change their policies and laws. Ultimately, it's our faith in the ethical nature of humanity that makes this arugment possible. It's an appeal to the conscience of those who make up the state from the pricked conscience of a fellow member. (And for Jake's sake I'll note-I am almost entirely secular and so I am not arguing that you can only be ethical or have a conscience vis a vis a 'religion' of some sort--far from it--I'd argue that our ethical nature precedes any religion, or maybe I should say, given the number of awful things 'religion' has managed to muck up by itself, is more valuable than religion.)

Which brings up a last question-what happens when the edicts of religion actually go against our ethical nature? I think the Catholic church's stance on contraception is a case in point, and certain Islamic clerics advocating violence. What then is the proper response of the ethical individual, of the state?

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 11:56:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I may come back to this post later. I've got a toilet to install.

I hate to bring it up because it is extreme, and your argument reads reasonablly when we view the state as even semi-reasonably.

Two examples:

The state is at least partially unreasonable: Slavery in the US. There was a need to directly challenge the authority of the state here. The underground railroad did this.

Nazi Germany: In this case the entire state was illegimate. In this case, the Quakers are credited with - well what you are not happy about.

That's it for now. I have a toilet with my name on it.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 12:19:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I fully acknowledge that my argument is at least partially based on the premise that the state is democratic. In non-democratic regimes dissent is not constrained by the need to behave democratically, for instance...

I think, however, that you are putting the horse before the cart here. Opposing slavery because slavery clearly violates the inalienable right of the slaves to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (among many other things) is a good thing. Opposing slavery because it is your religious conviction that slavery is wrong is probably on balance also a Good Thing, since slavery is so horrible an institution.

But while I am not trying to belittle the effort and risk put into liberating the slaves by the Underground Railroad, opposing slavery on religious grounds is clearly morally inferior to opposing slavery on grounds of slavery being demeaning to our fellow human beings. To see why, try turning the respective arguments on their heads:

"It is my religious conviction that slavery is wrong" is no more or less convincing than "it is my religious conviction that slavery is right." By way of contrast I doubt that you would find anyone measurably smarter than a sack of hammers who would argue that "slavery is wrong because it is demeaning to our fellow human beings" is no more convincing than "slavery is right because freedom is demeaning to our fellow human beings" or "slavery is right because slavery is uplifting to our fellow human beings."

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 01:47:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The distinction between government and religion and their roles need to be made, but it is not an easy distinction to make. Religion and government share the same role. What is a church but a government on a very small scale, or in the case of entities like the Catholic Church - not so small a scale?

I should hope that there is a difference. A religion is a club - a social construct that admits members according to certain club rules and provide a framework for the members in which they can do stuff they like to do. A government is a club of another kind; is a social construct that uses armed force or the threat thereof to enforce certain common rules. While you can leave the jurisdiction of a government (I support the right to popular self-determination - at least in principle), joining its jurisdiction in general does not require active assent. Furthermore, a club can exclude a member that breaks its rules - governments can not except in very special cases exclude citizens from its protection (the concept of banishment was - if you'll permit the pun - banished from Western legal tradition in the earliest Middle Ages). Having clubs impose their 'house rules' on society in general, through the application of governmental force, is undesirable, whether the club in question is the Union of Chess Players and Stamp Collectors or the First International Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I think I can trace any religious function onto the US government and US society - including faith (American exceptionalism, American creation myth), texts (American constitution), piety (nationalism), prostelization (war in Iraq), ritual (the electoral process, pledge of allegiance) and so on.

I disagree that the election process is equivalent to religious ritual (well, in the post-Diebold democracy it might be, but that's for another day). I also disagree that the US constitution is a sacred text - and I more than suspect that most of the people who wrote it (as well as the majority of the people who opposed it) would likewise disagree with your assertion. Tellingly, the USC can be amended by popular vote, something I can not think of any religious text that permits. The rest of the stuff you mention is at least quasi-religious, I agree with you on that. I also happen to think that they represent an unthinking autocratic undercurrent that probably exists in every society, but which I find no reason to praise.

I am not sure I want to 100% reign in religion. It provides an interesting check on the power of government.

But what provides a check on the power of religion? The very lack of checks and balances inherent to religious social structures is precisely what makes them both so potentially powerful and so very dangerous. At least the government has to act within the limits of the constitution - the Church rarely seems feel bound that way.

At the ethical level religion has an important ameliorating role to play in opposition to state government if necessary; it can deny the validity of certain laws based on persuasive ethical arugments,

But if you look at the persuasive arguments that are made, they are very rarely religious in nature. To take one of your own examples, Martin Luther King spoke most powerfully when he invoked arguments from common humanity. "I have a dream" is remembered not for its occasional religious trappings, but for its powerful invocation of equality before the law and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

No sane person will deny that religious people can and do affect positive social change - nor that their motivations may well be religious (there are also people who merely garb themselves in religion to affect change, of course - the 'but he was just using religion' defense cuts both ways...).

But using religion to affect social change carries with it the inherent problem that it legitimizes the use of religious rhetoric in the public debate. And I cannot think of any point in time in any society where the crazy fundamentalists were not better organized and more determined than their progressive counterparts (they may not be more numerous, but that's beside the point - superior organization and morale permits a political party to defeat a numerically much larger opponent). Thus, I would argue that religion in the political debate is a greater asset to the reactionaries than to the progressives, and thus in a purely tactical analysis, its use should be discouraged (there is also the slight matter of religion being unable to convincingly argue for secularism, a value that I hold rather dearly).

Further, I happen to care about the logic used to support a position - even one that I agree with. And "God wants X" is simply not a valid reason to support X to my mind. Chiefly because it does not even pretend to be consistent. The only unifying principle is someone's say-so, be he God or the Pope or your local pastor. In effect, basing policy on religious doctrine is one long string of special pleadings. (This last point is probably what Kierkegaard alludes to when he says that spiritual convictions cannot be generalized.)

So the ultimate authority for the ethical realm is logically the state. Christianity pretty much accepts this, (or at least it used to ... Render onto Caesars what is Caesars, etc.)

This interpretation of that particular verse interests me greatly, since it seems so at odds with the way Christianity has been practiced throughout history. I think I have expanded upon my views of why Christianity currently accepts this doctrine elsewhere on ET, but suffice is to say that the transition from a state-within-the-state (or rather a state-above-the-state) to a body subservient to the state was neither smooth nor painless. The American language has a pithy adage that describes the process very well: "Being dragged kicking and screaming out of the Middle Ages."

(And for Jake's sake I'll note-I am almost entirely secular and so I am not arguing that you can only be ethical or have a conscience vis a vis a 'religion' of some sort--far from it--I'd argue that our ethical nature precedes any religion, or maybe I should say, given the number of awful things 'religion' has managed to muck up by itself, is more valuable than religion.)

Don't note that for my sake - do it for the sake of making a coherent and meaningful point :-P

Which brings up a last question-what happens when the edicts of religion actually go against our ethical nature? [...] What then is the proper response of the ethical individual, of the state?

From the state? Nothing, until and unless the clerics in question start doing something illegal. Revolution may be illegal, but being a member of a political group advocating revolution is not, and should not be. Unless, of course, the member in question is serious about the revolution thing...

From the individual? Protest if you're not a part of the organization, and leave it if you are. Stop giving money to it. Start giving money, if you have any to spare, to the organizations that it is trying to oppose (the RCC, for instance, has recently distanced itself from Amnesty over the question of reproductive rights, which is yet another good reason to give Amnesty money), or that oppose it. In other words, standard political activism.

In the case of religious groups saying bigoted and stupid things, an additional argument that can be employed (and that I think should be employed) is that religion has no place in the political debate. I.o.w., tell the preachers to sit down and shut up while the discussion is about politics - they have their legitimate functions, and politicking is not one of them. (Of course this line of argument will come around and bite you on the butt if you then go out and support another group of politicking preachers simply because you agree with them...)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 01:27:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS - you have a very narrow view of what religion is. When things do not fit you take your sledge hammer and make them fit.

Of course the process of voting is a ritual. That it actually accomplishes something is not a problem with rituals at all. I've worked on elections, I have voted, and I have monitored elections. I have difficulty in imagining how one could claim that elections are not a ritual.

Rather than try to go through your two comments - it is far to long and time consuming to do so, I will touch on two points you raise.

Tellingly, the USC can be amended by popular vote, something I can not think of any religious text that permits.

Quaker Faith and Practice The process of creating and modifying this book is consensus decision-making. (Technically it is slightly different than that but everyone else claims it is consensus and in this case being slightly inaccurate is less misleading than to try to exactly describe it.) Before you say the Bible, keep in mind that I am an atheist. Within the Quaker traditions, other texts are also very occasionally used at the discretion of whoever is speaking. For example I once used C Programming Language as a religious text.  If you have any questions about consensus being democratic, keep in mind that it is the decision making process used by the government of the North West Territories in Canada.

But if you look at the persuasive arguments that are made, they are very rarely religious in nature. To take one of your own examples, Martin Luther King spoke most powerfully when he invoked arguments from common humanity. "I have a dream" is remembered not for its occasional religious trappings, but for its powerful invocation of equality before the law and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Really? Have you talked to people who knew Martin Luther King? It is not fair for you to claim that his arguments are very rarely religious in nature unless you have references to back it up. That you do not understand the religious nature of his life and work not an argument.

tell the preachers to sit down and shut up while the discussion is about politics - they have their legitimate functions, and politicking is not one of them.

I am glad that Martin Luther King did not listen.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Jun 23rd, 2007 at 11:22:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS - you have a very narrow view of what religion is. When things do not fit you take your sledge hammer and make them fit.

Or perhaps your view of religion is overly broad. If you can read religious 'meaning' into every action then your use of the word 'religion' conveys no information.

So let's put the definitions on the table: I define religion as a collection of rituals and social norms justified through appeal to authority and/or untestable or tested-and-found-false claims about the nature of humanity and/or the world. I strive to be consistent in my use of terms, and I attempt to revise my definitions whenever they are shown to give nonsense results. But of course it's possible that I fail at that.

What's your definition?

Of course the process of voting is a ritual. That it actually accomplishes something is not a problem with rituals at all.

The level of reflection and abstract thought is, however. I have looked in a couple of places (dictionary.com and an old copy of the BBC English Dictionary to be specific) and both have definitions that place high emphasis on the rote and/or ceremonial nature of rituals. If your elections are carried out by rote, or are purely ceremonial, I'd recommend you look into getting dual citizenship.

Rather than try to go through your two comments - it is far to long and time consuming to do so, I will touch on two points you raise.

That is your prerogative, of course.

Tellingly, the USC can be amended by popular vote, something I can not think of any religious text that permits.

Quaker Faith and Practice The process of creating and modifying this book is consensus decision-making.

That is surprising. Your link consistently gives me a server time-out, however, so I cannot discuss the specifics.

If you have any questions about consensus being democratic, keep in mind that it is the decision making process used by the government of the North West Territories in Canada.

Oh, I don't. I have some questions about it being practical, but practicality is not a requirement for democracy.

But if you look at the persuasive arguments that are made, they are very rarely religious in nature. To take one of your own examples, Martin Luther King spoke most powerfully when he invoked arguments from common humanity. "I have a dream" is remembered not for its occasional religious trappings, but for its powerful invocation of equality before the law and the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Really? Have you talked to people who knew Martin Luther King? It is not fair for you to claim that his arguments are very rarely religious in nature unless you have references to back it up.

I make no claim about his motivations, nor the nature of most of his arguments. I'm not even saying that his religious arguments were not effective at the time and place that they were made. I am saying that the majority of his valid arguments are not religious. Appeals to authority, which, sad to say, forms the bulk of the religion-based arguments I've heard yet, are simply not valid in political debate. That does not prevent them from being effective, if course.

You may not care about the use of demagogy and other intellectually questionable methods to achieve admirable goals. I happen to do. Chiefly because I think it is, in the long run, counterproductive to legitimize demagogy.

tell the preachers to sit down and shut up while the discussion is about politics - they have their legitimate functions, and politicking is not one of them.

I am glad that Martin Luther King did not listen.

sigh

I have stated - repeatedly - that there are policies that are sufficiently illegitimate to justify otherwise illegitimate counter-measures. Violent partisan activity is normally illegitimate, but we do not condemn the South African ANC, because we consider the Apartheid regime even less legitimate.

MLK's use of religious demagogy does not make his campaign unethical, on balance, since Jim Crow legislation is a greater evil than MLK's use of demagogy.

The point is that this is a consideration that must be made whenever we employ ethically dubious methods: Do the circumstances justify this action?

Your syllogism of

MLK used religious dogmatism for political ends in his pursuit of emancipation
MLK's pursuit of emancipation was not unethical
Ergo, the use of religious dogmatism for political ends is not unethical

has the logical form

X is part of Y
Y is not Z
Ergo, X is not Z

simply does not, in general, follow. Try, instead of using MLK and religious dogmatism, to insert X=Use of violence, Y=the first intifada and Z=unethical.

Specifically, you are committing the fallacy of division.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 09:40:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
tell the preachers to sit down and shut up while the discussion is about politics - they have their legitimate functions, and politicking is not one of them.

Edwin, I, too, was actually put off by the boldness and even intolerance of this comment. For the record, in the US, despite our fire wall between church and state (which I deeply appreciate) the free speech rights of religious leaders are broadly protected by the U.S. Constitution. Clergy can and do address public policy concerns, ranging from abortion, gay rights and gun control to poverty, civil rights and the death penalty. They may support legislation pending in Congress or the state legislatures, or call for its defeat. They may endorse or oppose ballot referenda. Indeed, discussion of public issues is a common practice in religious institutions all over America.

The only thing organized relgion can't  do is endorse or oppose candidates for public office or use their resources in partisan campaigns. This restriction, which is found in federal tax law, is not limited to churches and other religious ministries. In fact, it is applied to every non-profit organization in the country that holds a tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. So churches can even go so far as to endorse individual candidates if they want to--but they risk losing their tax exempt status.

I have no idea what the situation is in Jake's country (Denmark?), but in the US, religion for good or bad has tended to play an enormous role in our politics. I personally favor actions and policies that derive from principles of universality rather than an appeal to religion for many of the reasons Jake has outlined, but it's disengenious--and not a little unfair--to expect religious groups not to participate in political debates when every other legitimate entity in the country can.

On the flipside, that this privilege has been abused is without doubt. From the Christian Coalition's infamous voter guides to The Church at Pierce Creek near Binghamton, N.Y. that lost its tax-exempt status  after the IRS determined it had violated federal tax law by publishing a full-page ad in USA Today  advising people that voting for Clinton was 'a sin' and soliciting tax-exempt donations to defray the cost of the ad, organized religion has stepped well outside the bounds of its tax exempt status. If that were the limit of the problem I wouldn't be so worried, but too often,  religion (especially in the US) has also been used as a hammer to demonize entire minority groups (gays) and even political groups (liberals). The Quaker and traditional peace churchs in the US are unfortunately quite small. The Southern Baptist Convention is enormous. While I sympathize with your objection to Jake's broad and intolerant declaration against all religions, I can also understand where he's coming from. The way to bridge the gap, I would argue, again, is to maintain  a healthy respect for the supremacy of legitimate Democratic state authority over religious authority at least in terms of our day to day living.  To advocate for the ascendancy of religious authority over the state is a dead end because of religion's ultimate subjectivity. Why? Ask yourself this: which one of the multitude of competing religions gets to have final 'say'? Which view is more ethical? The religious rights take on gays or the Quaker's take on war? I know I'd be with the Quakers in a heartbeat, I also know quite a few folks in my state who would side with the religious right. From there you are only a half a step away from a 100 year war.

 Here's Project Fair Play on the same issue:

Mixing religion and partisan politics could lead to religious majoritarianism and divisiveness. If the church electioneering bills become law, a large church, or a number of churches working together, could form a political machine. Religious groups could select candidates and support their campaigns. This would inevitably allow the largest denomination in each community to dominate political life.

A quick survey of conflict around the globe shows how dangerous it can be when religion and politics are injudiciously mixed. The last thing America needs is to take a step in that direction.


 I agree with this. I don't however find Jake's syllogism terribly persuasive because as he himself noted, MLK's most persuasive arguments were generally based on a view of a common humanity. I think Jake is trying to split off or separate that out from a religious view of humanity which is a rather tedious excercise. Many major religions hold as core  values the concept of common humanity and a common good. So when MLK 'uses religious demagogy' as Jake calls it, he's more than likely talking about our common humanity. Unless Jake is going to provide specific instances where MLK said, 'discimination is bad because the bible tells me so' quoting chapter and verse that specifically appeals to some divine authority rather than our common humanity, I don't think there's much of an argument here. Even if there is, his main concern is that MLK would prop up a movement that was widely ecumenical because it occasionally referenced a quote from the gospel (which in and of itself is a great place to begin to get a sense of a common humanity) as a touchstone? Hmm, as we Southerners say, I just don't think I have a dog in this hunt.  Or perhaps, more broadly, I will say there's simply no need to suggest it's EITHER religious dogmatism OR ethical humanism. Many perhaps most religions represent views that embrace both. If I were to do a diagram it might look more like a Venn diagram where common humanity is a subset of religious dogmatism, B included in A, MLK appeals to B inside of A meaning, effectively, BOTH. Now there are cases when that distinction is useful, when, in fact, the religious dogmatism goes against the ethical character of humanity B is NOT included in A --a cleric who advocates violence or a church that denies the use of condoms (thus sentencing millions to early and agonizing deaths from AIDS for example). In these instances, by all means, break away from the church, petition against it, and appeal to the authority of a legitimate state as a counter balance. Outside of these instances, as edwin rightly points out, many religious traditions have often overlapped and indeed re-affirmed the core progressive values of a common humanity where 'rights' can be easily predicated on our ability to universalize them, just like any good Kantian. And I would further suggest that many preachers will say it's the right thing to do because 'God tells you so', but, in the Xtian tradition, at least, what 'God' (in the gospel) has told them is exactly the core believe of ethical humanism: to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you"...how much purer an example of universalism can you find than that?

Thanks to you both for the discussion. Now, out with the tomatoes!

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 01:36:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just to be clear on my first point: I am arguing that religious entities should be allowed to voice their concerns regarding various 'ethical' issues that affect society. I would hope in a Democratic society those issues would be argued on the basis of universal appeal--thus whether it was a religious entity advocating for a particular position or not shouldn't matter.  But I think religious entities should be heavily  discouraged from  endorsing individual political candidates for the reasons mentioned above.
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 01:54:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just to clarify I am in favour of the separation of church and state. In particular, Quakers ran Philadelphia as a "holy experiment" which is partly why we are as a group quite in favour of the separation of church and state. I think I can get away with saying that as a religion we have done it and it is wrong, and we don't support it any more.

I just have a problem figuring out how to deal with times that it becomes necessary - like Nazi Germany- to violate that principal.

I personally favor actions and policies that derive from principles of universality rather than an appeal to religion

I prefer that religious philosophies be indistinguishable on a practical level from those based on principles of universality. If they meet that criteria then why worry about it. If they are indistinguishable, then they are universal. I don't immediately see how one can have universality without imbedding it into a philosophy.

I think Jake is trying to split off or separate that out from a religious view of humanity which is a rather tedious exercise.

Yes he is trying, but you can't do it. One's faith/religion can be centrally tied to what he is trying to split off. It can be part of the definition of who one is. Do that with Quakers and you no longer have Quakers. I have a hunch that the same applies with MLK's religious views.

It goes back to the core of ones religious beliefs being derived from a principle of universality. You remove that universality then there is nothing.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 07:18:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
British Yearly Meeting's web site seems to be down. Philadelphia's Quaker Faith and Practice as well as a list of several other Faith and Practices are available here: (I am not familiar with any of them, though I would suspect that Philadelphia's Quaker Faith and Practice will in some ways be similar to Britain's.)

http://www.pym.org/publish/fnp/otheryms.php

In the US (Africa, and some other countries) there are 3 (not clearly defined) splits to Quaker faith. Two of the splits would fit your definition (more or less) of religion, one does not in my opinion. Britain has never split.

So let's put the definitions on the table: I define religion as a collection of rituals and social norms justified through appeal to authority and/or unstable or tested-and-found-false claims about the nature of humanity and/or the world. I strive to be consistent in my use of terms, and I attempt to revise my definitions whenever they are shown to give nonsense results. But of course it's possible that I fail at that.

Your definition is quite weak. There is a very strong philosophical component to many religions. It is here that you do injustice to MLK I think. As well your definition is self-serving as it assumes what it searches for - namely that religion is in some form evil.

According to your definition Quakers are probably not a religion, though one might be able to put together an argument about untestable or tested and false claims about the nature of humanity though I am not sure of that. I could certainly give it a go on the nature of several political parties in certain countries. Quakers are fringe in several respects so it is not surprising that they often fail to fit into various definitions of what is religion. What other Christian sect has 26% of its members saying that they either do not believe or are not sure that there is a god? On questions on the views of Jesus 14% believe that Jesus is the son of god. (British survey) Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism Facts and Figures Do Quakers believe in God, and if they do what sort of God? pp107-108

I don't really have a definition of religion. I am currently unable to come up with one. I am pretty sure that religion and philosophy often blend into one another and are not always distinguishable. Any definition of religion must contain a philosophical component or it is very weak. Not all religions have a philosophical component though.

At some point philosophies seem to me to be dependant on the phrase 'this is what I believe'. There is no absolute reason why we should do unto others as we want them to do unto us. Maybe I am big and strong and I prefer do what I want or I break your skull.

The other thing about religions is that they are not static. They are changing as the world changes. There is some movement - I don't know how large - away from traditional religious views, especially on the importance of god and the literal truth of the bible. The large percentage of atheists within British Quakers would be an example of that.

What seems to holds Quakers together is a philosophy that is very similar to humanism, though not identical, and a very strong sense of process. The big difference to humanism is that Quaker faith is set up in such a way that its philosophy can not be just read, but must also be interpreted by the reader. Typical humanist philosophy can be just read and absorbed. Besides the very strong philosophical component, Quakers also differ in that they do not "know". They are seekers - hence the requirement for interpretation. Because of the lack of knowing, some atheists who agree with the philosophical content find themselves welcome as equals. The same applies to people of non-christian faiths.

Appeals to authority, which, sad to say, forms the bulk of the religion-based arguments I've heard yet, are simply not valid in political debate. That does not prevent them from being effective, if course.

I can't argue with that. I'm not sure how much appeals to authority and being loud go together though. It may be that you just don't hear much about religions that don't appeal to authority. Perhaps you need to look on the Flying Spaghetti Monster discussion group and see what types of religious people post supportive comments there. :) Religions are changing with the changing morality of the societies that they exist in. Gay marriage is a good example of that. Religions are also affected by changes to how we view the world. Some will change and adopt new ideas of our relation to each other and the planet. Some will resist to varying degrees and some will go into open rebellion. You have a choice when viewing many religions - you can approach things from the view of is the glass half empty or half full. (I will admit to being a half-empty type of person so perhaps I shouldn't be too disagreeing of some of your analysis.)

Ah: Should have started with Religious Tolerance.org.
http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_defn.htm

Defining the word "religion" is fraught with difficulty. All of the definitions that we have encountered contain at least one deficiency:

Some exclude beliefs and practices that many people passionately defend as religious. For example, their definition might include belief in a God or Goddess or combination of Gods and Goddesses who are responsible for the creation of the universe and for its continuing operation. This excludes such non-theistic religions as Buddhism and many forms of religious Satanism which have no such belief.

Some definitions equate "religion" with "Christianity," and thus define two out of every three humans in the world as non-religious.
Some definitions are so broadly written that they include beliefs and areas of study that most people do not regard as religious. For example, David Edward's definition would seem to include cosmology and ecology within his definition of religion -- fields of investigation that most people regard to be a scientific studies and non-religious in nature.
Some define "religion" in terms of "the sacred" and/or "the spiritual," and thus require the creation of two more definitions.

Sometimes, definitions of "religion" contain more than one deficiency.

Our compromise definition:
This website's essays use a very broad definition of religion:

"Religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a worldview."

(A worldview is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe.) Thus we would consider Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Native American Spirituality, and Neopaganism to be religions. We also include Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, Ethical Culture etc. as religions, because they also contain a "belief about deity" -- their belief is that they do not know whether a deity exists, or they have no knowledge of God, or they sincerely believe that God does not exist.

A long list of definitins of religion follow.

This is my favourate:

Barns & Noble (Cambridge) Encyclopedia (1990):
"...no single definition will suffice to encompass the varied sets of traditions, practices, and ideas which constitute different religions."


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Jun 24th, 2007 at 06:31:41 PM EST
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