"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Religious Right as "American Taliban": Calumny or Just Slander?

Our Burkean-in-training, Connie Deady, asks the right questions, ones that are being asked everywhere right now:

Was it Aquinas or Augustine that differentiated between the secular and the divine and said that the two should be separate and we should leave the divine to God and the state to be secular? (I always get those two mixed up in my mind.)

Most everybody does, Ms. Deady, except for those of us who have no mind for such things at all. Actually, it originated with Jesus, with the "render unto Caesar" bit.

I see the argument often these days that Christian thought is founded on superstition ("revelation") alone and that modern secularism is the heir to all human reason, from Aristotle 'til now. But that's simply not accurate.

You'll find the philosophical father of our constitution John Locke's moral and political vocabulary closer to St. Thomas Aquinas' natural law than to modernist philosophy: like Aquinas, Locke does not use the Bible directly to advance his political arguments. And you will find Christianity philosophically and historically in easier accomodation with the Enlightenment and the Founding principles, and frankly, vice-versa. It is in post-Enlightenment thought, "modern" philosophy (as opposed to what we like to call around here "classical liberalism"), the realm of Marx, Rawls, and Freud, where the true radicalism, the modern Jacobins, are to be found.

Theories of natural law do not depend on the Bible, which is why I'm fond of pointing out that the Dalai Lama is also a natural law theorist, his philosophy not dependent on any holy book, but on reason alone. His Holiness is a useful control in our thought experiment: like the Dalai Lama, Christian thought does not reject ordinary moral reasoning. The Bible is nowhere near comprehensive enough to get by without it.
It seems to me that one outcome of your position is what we are getting in Iraq and the Mideast, which is complete intermingling of State and Islam. Doesn't that give you pause to worry about letting the divine control the secular laws?

OK, this what makes me start to bristle these days, and I'll tell you why. It's a facile but unfounded equivalency, that "all religions are (somehow) the same," and you're by no means alone in making it. There were 500 Islam-inspired bombings in a single day recently in Bangladesh, a Muslim country that virtually nobody gives a geo-econo-political damn about. There is a phenomenon here that has nothing to do with us.

This is where today's routine equivalencies of Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms fall short: in their founding documents themselves.

The specifics of Islam, that it is not seen (and does not offer itself) merely as a religion (muzdhab), but as a self-contained Tao, a comprehensive way of life (din) both moral and legal, make liberalization ("Enlightenment") far more difficult, especially in accomodation with pluralistic Western secularism, which seeks to pop Islam into its conceptual pigeonhole as mere religion. I wish it were that easy, but the Western mind from neo-con to modernist loses the flavor, nay, the essence, in translation.

Each tradition has its specifics and self-conception, which cannot be ignored and thrown into one amorphous soup. We must understand them as they understand themselves, or else we're left trying to make squares out of circles, wasting our time and cyberink.

In the American debate, Christian moral thought does not claim any special dispensation from the rigors of reason; it holds itself simply equal to any secular system of philosophy.

But not inferior. It does not accept dhimmitude and second-class status. Everything's on the table, and let the most reasonable moral system be the law of the land, as decided by the consciences of the American people, not a minority of legal theorists who use the constitution as a weapon against we the people.

This was the moral choice that confronted the "religious right," Christian fundamentalists, in the wake of Roe v. Wade, a constitutionally brutal decision. They found themselves thrust, as part of a democracy that the Bible never contemplated, into sharing the role of Caesar and with all the burdens and duties of conscience: to accept those burdens and duties, or in embracing the new legal theory of moral neutrality as the only truly constitutional principle of law, shirk them.

To my mind, they followed the only moral course (with some regrettable and condemnable extremist exceptions)---using moral suasion in the form of protest, and organizing politically to change the composition of the Supreme Court, which was the real author of the inalienable "right" to abortion, not the constitution or the people, and certainly not to their minds, any endowing Creator.

I think they did OK. They respected our social contract in both letter and spirit.


We shall, with your permission, hold for another day the prudence or morality in our present moral dilemma, between accommodating the order that Muslim tyrannies provide their people versus the decimating chaos that accompanies the establishment of political self-determination, and the question of the compatability of democracy with Islam. I first wanted to deal with throwing everyone who believes in anything beyond the material world into the same indifferent soup. I have some charitable things to say about Islam, but charity begins at home.

53 comments:

James Elliott said...

I'm curious about why you place Rawls in the same "radical" category as the likes of Marx and Freud. Rawls' "A Theory of Justice" seems to me to be a direct successor to Locke, whom you tout above. Both could properly be labeled as members of the "social contract" club of political philosophers.

Tlaloc said...

"And you will find Christianity philosophically and historically in easier accomodation with the Enlightenment and the Founding principles, and frankly, vice-versa."

Bu-huh?
The Enlightenment was the complete repudiation of the chritian-centered society. There is no way any two movements could be any further apart than Christianity and the the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment ushered in a new age of reason over faith whereas Christianity explicitly demands faith trump reason.

Recall that whole Galileo thing?

Seriously Tom, this is nothing more than historical revisionism of the highest scale.



"There were 500 Islam-inspired bombings in a single day recently in Bangladesh, a Muslim country that virtually nobody gives a geo-econo-political damn about. There is a phenomenon here that has nothing to do with us."

Bangladesh is part of the legacy of India and Pakistan left to us by the British. The sectarian tension there absolutely can be traced back to geopolitcal causes.



"The specifics of Islam, that it is not seen (and does not offer itself) merely as a religion (muzdhab), but as a self-contained Tao, a comprehensive way of life (din) both moral and legal,"

And that's different from Christianity how exactly? There are a surprisingly large number of people in this country that want to use the bible as the source of law. I can direct you to examples if you like.



"In the American debate, Christian moral thought does not claim any special dispensation from the rigors of reason; it holds itself simply equal to any secular system of philosophy."

Ahem...intelligent design...ahem

(hint- when you insist that science is wrong simply because it contravenes your religion that is not equal with any philosophy)



"This was the moral choice that confronted the "religious right," Christian fundamentalists, in the wake of Roe v. Wade, a constitutionally brutal decision. They found themselves thrust, as part of a democracy that the Bible never contemplated, into sharing the role of Caesar and with all the burdens and duties of conscience: to accept those burdens and duties, or in embracing the new legal theory of moral neutrality as the only truly constitutional principle of law, shirk them."

Right. Christians were never politically active prior to R v W. It was that decision to safeguard the right of women to own their own bodies that forced Christians onto the political stage. Because of course prior to that the US never did anything that a Christian might object to.

You can't really believe what you are saying.

James Elliott said...

Tlaloc, I think you're slightly off base when you call the Enlightenment a "complete repudiation" of Christian thought. For nearly a thousand years before the Enlightenment, scholarly thought was the exclusive purview of the educated: the priest "caste" of Western society. Augustine and Aquinas contributed valuable secular thought separate from their sectarian views, but never did they question the legitimacy of relating all things back to sectarian views; God was a given. Religious indoctrination went hand in hand with education because, frankly, the Christian church was one of the few places that had the means and leisure time to devote to getting fat while sitting on their behinds thinking all day.

Perhaps the closest thing to repudiation - and most Enlightenment scholars remained religious, if not devout, typically in a Theistic sense - the Enlightenment scholars ever came up with was the very admirable "death of certainty." They never stopped questioning. The most valuable addition to Enlightenment thought in the modern age can be traced back to the modern philosophers and "radicals" that Tom snipes at: the concept of subjectivity.

Still, it shouldn't be surprising that elements of Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment, and modern thought reflect one another and have commonalities with Christian philisophy. They all share the same historical context. They will share similar roots and aspects. That's not a bad thing. Most of the significant thought for over half the time since the Romans was the exclusive purview of the Church. Not all of that thought will needs be theistic in nature, nor do all people need to unquestioningly accept the underlying sectarian beliefs (like Augustine and Aquinas did) in order to acknowledge its contribution and importance.

Tlaloc said...

"Augustine and Aquinas contributed valuable secular thought separate from their sectarian views, but never did they question the legitimacy of relating all things back to sectarian views; God was a given."

I don't disagree that they contributed importantly to secular thought. The problem though, as you note, is that for them all sprung from god. Nothing could derive that wasn't from god nor that contradicted what was attributed to god.

The Enlightnement absolutely is a repudiation of that tautological world view. It rediscovered the very idea of empiricism that had languished throughout the dark ages of Christian rule.



"Still, it shouldn't be surprising that elements of Enlightenment, post-Enlightenment, and modern thought reflect one another and have commonalities with Christian philisophy."

Oh of course. Just as there are commonalities between Christianity and every other religion. We are all human afterall and our physiology alone means we relate to the world in certain ways. To create a philosophy that truly had nothing in common with any human philosophy would require an alien mind.

But that doesn't mean that the philosophies themselves are not diametrically opposed.

The authoritarian and the anarchist both agree that authority exists but they take opposite views of it.

The Christianist and Enlightenist agree that faith exist but assign it opposite values in regards to critical thinking.

mjwatson said...

I think this is a great post, and it was linked to on another site I frequent (not sure the author elsewhere has the whole trackback thing down though).

I would agree, though, with James that Rawls seems an odd choice to be put in with Marx and Freud. And Rawls becomes less and less radical after Theory of Justice. But that may just be an interesting side debate.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Rawls, of course, follows Rousseau in fabricating a view of human nature, then philosophizing on it. His "original position" ignores the reality that Everybody Wants to Rule the World. It also ignores less cynical teleologies, like the pursuit of excellence and virtue.

He compounds the error with the democratization of truth, the enemy of the Enlightenment and of reason itself. Bad ideas are given protection from good ones in the name of egalitarianism, itself an unnatural and oppressive state of both man and reason.

The Death of Certainty is a very good thing, and foundational to the soul of philosophy, which is inquiry. However, to hold that the inquiry is for practical purposes useless is quite anti-philosophical.

As Dr Johnson noted of a earlier enterprise in this same vein: “Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity, so they have betaken themselves to error: Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.”

Still, as politics, I find much to like in Rawls' conclusions although not his reasoning (not unlike my feelings on Edmund Burke): Ironically, the very legal position that Antonin Scalia is fighting for these days (and being excoriated for by his critics) is purely Rawslian, that in matters of conscience, the least we can do is have something resembling a democratic consensus.

Evanston said...

My thanks to Tom and JFE for the give-and-take. Looking forward to Tom's positive comments on Islam. I studied it as an undergrad, along with my arabic minor. My professors at UVA stressed that there was no such thing in Islam as church/state separation. I wasn't a believing christian then, but the contrast between the two (including, as Tom rightly indicates, that Christ ratified church/state separation in this Age) is difficult to overestimate. "American Taliban?" Calumny by the humanist taliban.

Tlaloc said...

"including, as Tom rightly indicates, that Christ ratified church/state separation in this Age"

Christ said an awful lot of things that his followers often don't internalize.

connie deady said...

OK, this what makes me start to bristle these days, and I'll tell you why. It's a facile but unfounded equivalency, that "all religions are (somehow) the same," and you're by no means alone in making it. There were 500 Islam-inspired bombings in a single day recently in Bangladesh, a Muslim country that virtually nobody gives a geo-econo-political damn about. There is a phenomenon here that has nothing to do with us.

What about the crusades?

I'm not sure why you invaldiate the equation of religions. Certainty of the rightness of your position can lead to war, destruction, etc. Bombing of abortion clinics?

I'm not being facile here. My problem with all religions is precisely that certainty of being right leads to an awful lot of unaccountable consequences, some on a small scale, some large.

connie deady said...

OK, this what makes me start to bristle these days, and I'll tell you why. It's a facile but unfounded equivalency, that "all religions are (somehow) the same," and you're by no means alone in making it. There were 500 Islam-inspired bombings in a single day recently in Bangladesh, a Muslim country that virtually nobody gives a geo-econo-political damn about. There is a phenomenon here that has nothing to do with us.

What about the crusades?

I'm not sure why you invaldiate the equation of religions. Certainty of the rightness of your position can lead to war, destruction, etc. Bombing of abortion clinics?

I'm not being facile here. My problem with all religions is precisely that certainty of being right leads to an awful lot of unaccountable consequences, some on a small scale, some large.

mjwatson said...

I'm not being facile here. My problem with all religions is precisely that certainty of being right leads to an awful lot of unaccountable consequences, some on a small scale, some large.

This isn't at all facile. The view that serious religion leads to war and conflict is a view held by many of the political theorists who paved the way for modernity (and postmodernity). Spinoza, Hobbes, Rousseau, etc. all thought religion needed to be tamed. Rawls follows Judith Shklar in citing the wars of religion as the impetus for the rise of liberalism.

Still, I would suggest that people qua people are prone to violence and conflict, and the vast majority of people are religious. This would explain the evidence we see about religion and violence, as well as more secular ideologies and violence.

Certainty as an explanation is imo a thin reed. Not only does it have a certain self-defeating logic to it (is Tom sure the death of certainty has happened, or that it's good?), but it's ill effects have to weighed in with the good. MLK and Gandhi weren't unsure, and Jesus was a pretty judgmental fellow. Pretty much anything good that happens results from someone being sure enough about their principles to take some sort of action.

Tlaloc said...

"Still, I would suggest that people qua people are prone to violence and conflict, and the vast majority of people are religious. This would explain the evidence we see about religion and violence, as well as more secular ideologies and violence."

The problem though is that authority structures like states and churches serve to amplify our tendencies toward violence. We might be individual mean to each other but nothig like the slaughter of WW1 would occur without monolithic states. Does anyone believe the crusades, or the slaughter of the mesoamericans, would have happened spontaneously? No of course not.

Spirituality is, I think, a good thing. Religion is not. And what's more religion is in many ways the opposite of spirituality because it is the mass marketed prepackaged version. It is someone else's spirituality (Christ's, Buddha, Mohammed...) cheaply imitated and sold to you.

Don't buy your spirituality off the rack. It won't fit, and the cost has always been prohibitive.

Matt Huisman said...

If Tom is going to bristle about religious equivalency, I’ll volunteer to help with the portion related to the anti-theists. Certainty is not the exclusive domain of the supernaturally inclined. (And do you really want to start a discussion about violence in the 20th century?) My problem with anti-religionists is that they don’t recognize their own religiousity. They employ just as much of a belief system as anyone else.

Now if you’re trying to encourage humility, I’m all for that. No doubt I could use a bit more myself. But I’m with mjwatson here in thinking that certainty (or confidence) has been getting a bad rap. (How can one be certain that certainty is problematic?) Isn’t it much more likely that trouble in this world is caused by the influence of (something resembling) the seven deadly sins on each of us – regardless of which religious banner we follow?

Tlaloc said...

"Certainty is not the exclusive domain of the supernaturally inclined."

True.



"(And do you really want to start a discussion about violence in the 20th century?)"

I'm game :)



"My problem with anti-religionists is that they don’t recognize their own religiousity. They employ just as much of a belief system as anyone else."

Again though you use "religion" far far too broadly. Having a belief system is not religious. Having a belief system founded only on faith is. I believe that there is a segment of the electromagnetic spectrum that is "red." That is not a religious belief. It is one founded on the phsyiology of how we percieve light and the definitions of the english language. There is no faith involved.

Similarly I believe the sun will "rise" tomorrow. I believe that due to empirical models that explain why the sun appears to rise and which suggest that barring some unlikely calamity it will continue to do so for a long time to come. Again no religion.

I also believe that our country was founded by the signing of the constitution and that said constitution enumerates a system of government. Our country is then defined by that document and the system contained. I believe this due to the historical evidence and the concept of social contracts. Not a religion.



"(How can one be certain that certainty is problematic?)"

One cane be certain that certainty in a proposition that is faith based is problematic. Faith can be a great thing, but it is also prone to internal and external manipulations and should always be treated with an element of doubt. That's the irony of faith, it is about trust but cannot itself be trusted.

tbmbuzz said...

Having a belief system is not religious. Having a belief system founded only on faith is.

Tlaloc, I would posit that a large portion of today's environmentalist movement is an example of a non-religious belief system founded only on faith. PETA can be another example.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, I would posit that a large portion of today's environmentalist movement is an example of a non-religious belief system founded only on faith."

See my above comment about 75%+ of any movement or social organization being poseurs. That does not however affect the fundamental nature of the movement itself.

In other words I'm sure that there are religiously environmental people, that is people who are environmental simply out of faith and not fact. I'd even be willing to say there are likely a lot of them. But that doesn't change the nature of environmentalism itself which is fact based. It just means there are a lot of hangers-on who don't get it.

Contrast that with actual religions in which everyone who is a real adherent does so on faith.

As I've said many times, faith is not an inherently bad thing. It has some very positive aspects and uses. But it has been proven to be a disasterous method of setting political policy. Faith in private life: fine, maybe even good. Faith in public operations: bad.

mjwatson said...

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Public faith.

http://www.nobelprizes.com/nobel/peace/MLK-jail.html

Tlaloc said...

"The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr."

And your point is? Yes the man was a priest. But if the Civil Rights movement had hinged on religious reasoning it would have been wrong. It didn't thought.

I'm not saying people can't be openly religious. Or that religious people cannot be involved in policy. What I'm saying is that their faith cannot be the underpinning of the policy.

Is that clear now?

Tlaloc said...
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Hunter Baker said...
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Hunter Baker said...
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Hunter Baker said...

Re: the relationship of Christianity and reason, I strongly recommend Rodney Stark's "The Victory of Reason." It will clear up many of the imbecilities that tie up this debate.

Matt Huisman said...

Again though you use "religion" far far too broadly. Having a belief system is not religious. Having a belief system founded only on faith is.

Let’s look at an ontological naturalist. No god, only matter. Entire worldview is based off of this premise. Great. How did he arrive at the conclusion that there is no god? He starts by looking at how things are now, and then work backwards. The trouble is that he’s not able to go all the way to the back to the beginning. How did this all get started? Don’t know. So he has to guess. Maybe it’s a good guess, maybe it’s not. But it is a guess, an assumption, which ultimately becomes one of the foundational beliefs that shapes his worldview. It may be that other religious systems require a lot more initial faith conditions than that, but it doesn’t change the fact that naturalism relies on an incredibly important guess that has enormous implications on its worldview. Which is why it too is faith based.

One cane be certain that certainty in a proposition that is faith based is problematic. Faith can be a great thing, but it is also prone to internal and external manipulations and should always be treated with an element of doubt. That's the irony of faith, it is about trust but cannot itself be trusted.

Right back at’cha.

Kathy Hutchins said...

I strongly recommend Rodney Stark's "The Victory of Reason."

Another good source, from a specifically Catholic perspective, is Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I suspect book recommendations won't quite swing it, HB. We will have to depend on the direct intervention of beings like yourself to clear up the imbecilities that tie up this debate.

(Altho, Kathy, my own Catholic self will keep an eye out for Sheed's work.

Coincidentally, last night I caught an old kinescope of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen completely destroying Rousseau, that a man who abandoned five children should presume to lecture us on education.)

Tlaloc said...

"Let’s look at an ontological naturalist. No god, only matter."

Yes that has a religious component. Any statement regarding the existence, the nonexistence, or the nature of an undetectable diety is religious. No doubt.

I don't disagree with that point at all, Matt. But you seem to be pretending that the entirety of people who want a secular government are ontological naturalists who deny anything divine exists.

They aren't. And they certainly aren't trying to push on you their atheism.

I'm not an atheist. I have no interest in spreading atheism. But I understand that our country is founded upon a bedrock of secularism.



"Right back at’cha."

Yep. There's a reason I don't use my spirituality as an arguing point. I'm not certain of it by any means, and I would have to be much more egomaniacal than (even) I am to think it was not only good for me but good for all.

Tlaloc said...

"I suspect book recommendations won't quite swing it, HB. We will have to depend on the direct intervention of beings like yourself to clear up the imbecilities that tie up this debate."

I'll certainly respect hearing Hunter's thoughts on the matter more than an appeal to an authority I don't recognize.


By the way since I dump on the church a lot I thought it fair I point out a case of the church doing a good job for once:
http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/7593476/detail.html

Taking care of the poor and needy despite possible persecution? Gosh sounds sort of Jesus-like.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What about the crusades?

I'm not sure why you invalidiate the equation of religions. Certainty of the rightness of your position can lead to war, destruction, etc. Bombing of abortion clinics?


"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”--- Blaise Pascal, Pensees

That one was thrown up recently, and it's certainly convincing on its face. His words were true at the time, but fascism and communism hadn't been invented yet. Once we hit the 20th century, the non-religionists got their turn behind the wheel, and the crash was stupendous. (Pensees was also written before the French Revolution, no picnic that, either.)

One begins to wonder whether man needs a reason to kill and tyrannize, or just an excuse.

As for the crusades, what about them? Was it about religion or politics? Unfortunately Islam is both a religion and a politics, so it's hard to suss them out. The popes used them to unify Europe (Christendom) against the Muslim imperialism, which, pincer-like, had already hit Spain and was threatening Constantinople. It was a cynical plan, although it might have saved Christian Europe.

(Ironically, the crusades were also the beginning of the Roman church's theological corruptions, like selling indulgences, that led to Luther's Reformation.)

Still, one must ask why the two religions went in such opposite directions, leaving us with Christianity getting more mellow, and Islam, well, look around at the world. Could it have something to do with their actual content?

(Not that I would want actual reality to threaten the enjoyability of our abstract and representational musings, where frogs and trees are equal because they both like water and they're green...)

Tom Van Dyke said...

is Tom sure the death of certainty has happened, or that it's good?

In order, Mr. Watson, no and yes.

"I do not know" is the only principled philosophical stance. Even if we think we know, we must question and retest again and again, lest man claim infallibility for his own reason. Otherwise, we might as well just die when we're all Mr. Elliott's age, while we still know everything. ;-)

On the other hand, it need not condemn us to Hamletism. When the bell rings, you take your best shot, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Tlaloc said...

"Unfortunately Islam is both a religion and a politics, so it's hard to suss them out."

As opposed to Christianity which owns it's own country and controls the majority party in the world's only superpower. Gosh that's not political at all!

Tlaloc said...

"Still, one must ask why the two religions went in such opposite directions, leaving us with Christianity getting more mellow, and Islam, well, look around at the world. Could it have something to do with their actual content?"

Maybe, or maybe it has to do with Christianity being associated with the nations that became the aggressive superpowers (Spain, Britain, the US) of the world. It's easy to mellow out when you are the king after all. It's all those bloody serfs who seem to go get riled up! Why don't they just go have some cake?

Evanston said...

Regarding the Crusades and other "christian" malfeasance, I believe it is fair to judge all philosophy and religion by its proper use, not its abuse. Read the entire New Testament and you will find no justification whatsoever for the Crusades, the Inquisition, and many popular "What about ____" topics. The Old Testament featured the buildup to a theocracy which highlighted how men, absent God's saving power, cannot live justly even if given just laws.
If you want to focus on the practical application of philophies, compare christianity vs. islam and marxism, look at the lives of Jesus and the early church vs. Mohammed and Lenin. Connie lumps all religions together, and if I blithely generalized about atheists, I could lump Connie and Pol Pot together quite nicely.
I expect to get the usual point-by-point argumentation (not refutation) by Tlaloc regarding these statements. But at least he puts some thought into the subject.

Tlaloc said...

"I expect to get the usual point-by-point argumentation (not refutation) by Tlaloc regarding these statements. But at least he puts some thought into the subject."

Why, thank you. Honestly though I'm fairly on board with what you said here.

The distinction I'd make is between the philosophy and the institutions based on it.

That is to say I think it's fair to say that the Christian faith is not to blame for the abuses of it's premises. It is pretty overtly a pacifist faith afterall. But a Christian CHURCH is a different matter. They are to blame for the abuses they have engineered by willful ignorance of the faith they proclaim.

Matt Huisman said...

One begins to wonder whether man needs a reason to kill and tyrannize, or just an excuse.

I know that there is a large difference between killing and the more mundane offenses of gossip, pride, envy, etc. But I don’t think it should be too hard to make the connection that they are different degrees of the same problem. When we look at ourselves, we notice that they are found in each of us, and that they are usually not employed in the service of certainty. It is in these traditional ‘sin arenas’ – along with what Tlaloc would say is the tendency of authority structures to amplify these sins – that our problem lies. Ask yourself why you snapped at your co-worker this morning, and you’ll find yourself making all kinds of excuses. A defense of certainty (say your religion) is only one of many options.

Now if you really want to hang your hat on certainty as the source of all evil (or at least the really big stuff), and think that by avoiding it we can avoid violence, I struggle to see how you might do so. The evidence – some of which Tom has laid out – doesn’t bode to well for anti-theists. It looks to me like we’re all religious – we all have a certainty complex – even if some of us are certain that we’re not.

Evanston said...

T-Man, I agree with what you stated and hope that I'm not engaging in useless quibbling. But rather than point to CHURCHes in general as a problem, I'd specify state churches (Roman Catholic, Church of England, Eastern Orthodox, etc.). There have always been attempts to co-opt, corrupt, or counterfeit Christian churches. When the state co-opts the faith (e.g., the emperor Constantine) it quickly is corrupted and can become a counterfeit. Christians and churches will naturally have political preferences, but as soon as they cross the line into becoming "kingmakers" the king soon becomes the "churchmaker." To digress, I had to laugh recently at Dawn Eden blog threads where folks fawned over the movie A Man for All Seasons. The Roman church (and Thomas More himself) were happy enough when they used state power to persecute others, but allofasudden it was unfair when the state persecuted them. If ever the warning against those who "live by the sword" applied, it is against state churches that consequently die (both spiritually and physically) by the sword. Europe's empty churches (often still state-funded) are a stark testimony to this truth.

Hunter Baker said...

Tom, I'm going to stick with my book recommendation. If the issuers of lame broadsides want to know something rather than rant on, I'll charge them to hazard reading a few pages now and again.

Tom Van Dyke said...

A fool has no delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own opinion.---Proverbs 18:2.

Still, I thought it was an excellent discussion, HB, true to the spirit of Reform Clubs past and present. My compliments to our posse. I enjoyed (most) every word. Cheers, all.

James Elliott said...

They aren't. And they certainly aren't trying to push on you their atheism.

Secularists aren't atheists.

mjwatson said...

"I do not know" is the only principled philosophical stance. Even if we think we know, we must question and retest again and again, lest man claim infallibility for his own reason. ...

On the other hand, it need not condemn us to Hamletism. When the bell rings, you take your best shot, and may God have mercy on your soul.


You are an Ernest Fortin fan perhaps?

connie deady said...

If Tom is going to bristle about religious equivalency, I’ll volunteer to help with the portion related to the anti-theists. Certainty is not the exclusive domain of the supernaturally inclined. (And do you really want to start a discussion about violence in the 20th century?) My problem with anti-religionists is that they don’t recognize their own religiousity. They employ just as much of a belief system as anyone else.

I've always agreed that secularists have a belief system (why do I feel these words are like pro-choice, pro-life, you call me an anti-religionsist, I see myself as a secular humanist). But it's also a believe system, that as far as the public sphere, imposes religious neutrality and a keeping of the spiritual out of secular government.
I do disagree that secularists are equally certain. Secularists come in the shape of athiests, deists, athiests, agnostics.

In no way, shape or form do I denounce spirituality. It is, to my mind, a belief in something greater than yourself and defines ones sense of right and wrong. That's both beautiful and necessary for any civil society.

I was raised as a Presbyterian and I can't think of a more terrific value system than the New Testament. As Pedro Cerrano said in [i]Major League[/i]"I like your Jesus".

Most secular types biggest issue is allowing all religions to co-exist. As an asterik I'd mention that recent developments in the middle east make me question Islam bigtime.

connie deady said...

Regarding the Crusades and other "christian" malfeasance, I believe it is fair to judge all philosophy and religion by its proper use, not its abuse. Read the entire New Testament and you will find no justification whatsoever for the Crusades, the Inquisition, and many popular "What about ____" topics. The Old Testament featured the buildup to a theocracy which highlighted how men, absent God's saving power, cannot live justly even if given just laws.
If you want to focus on the practical application of philophies, compare christianity vs. islam and marxism, look at the lives of Jesus and the early church vs. Mohammed and Lenin. Connie lumps all religions together, and if I blithely generalized about atheists, I could lump Connie and Pol Pot together quite nicely.
I expect to get the usual point-by-point argumentation (not refutation) by Tlaloc regarding these statements. But at least he puts some thought into the subject.


woah.

Actually I lump together all philosophical certainty. Actually I think violence comes not from religion, but from religion taken to extremes. It's one thing to have convictions, it's another thing to kill people who believe otherwise and stamp out other religions.

BTW, Pot Pol or dictators involve political systems. There can be facist who are Christians - Hitler was a Catholic, wasn't he? There can be facists who are athiests.

Actually comparisons of PETA extremists with religious extremists is appropriate. Both go to extremes because of the certainty of their belief systems.

I'm glad to see that Tom is a fan of questioning as opposed to certainty.

As I said above, I have to wonder if there isn't extremism built into Islam more so than other religions.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Never heard of him until now, MJW, but it sure looks like you've got my number.
A Catholic Straussian.
What's not to like?

mjwatson said...

I was trying to read between the lines ;)

Fortin is one of my favorite thinkers. Given what you've said here and elsewhere about Rousseau and other folks, I think you'd enjoy him very much.

To the extent that there is such an animal as the Catholic Straussian (and I'm not altogether persuaded that there is), Fortin strikes me as the most admirable.

connie deady said...

Okay, I give, why is Catholocism inimical to Strauss? (I'm hoping you're not talking about Catholics and Jews killed Jesus).

I think Strauss would support any position that looked at issues from a perspective of morals and a higher authority.

Matt Huisman said...

Connie>> I do disagree that secularists are equally certain. Secularists come in the shape of athiests, deists, athiests, agnostics.

I think I need to say a few things about secularism. First, I have not said anything about it (yet) on this thread. I have only made arguments to show that all of us, even anti-theists (as Tlaloc kindly acknowledged), have religious beliefs. Second, the secular worldview does not require its members to agree on the reasoning behind it – it’s a consolidated worldview (not unlike Catholics and Protestants getting lumped together under Christianity). The key is that its members agree to lay down various other truth claims and employ the secularist principle of keeping god on the sideline.

Now I have been arguing against the notion that some of us abstain from certainty. I find it absurd. That does not mean that I think secularists are bad people with sinister intentions. It means that they have staked out a framework for the best way to operate, and are willing to support the imposition of that framework on everyone else. When you say that traditional religion should not interfere with the affairs of society you are making a claim at that point that your way is better.

Is it really that hard to see that there is some certainty going on here? [Reminder: I have not said that I disagree with secularism’s intent or provided a better option.] This is why I say that its hard to blame the big problems in life on those with certainty ‘issues’. It is no different than saying that people are the problem. Everyone is operationally certain (even if they’re not entirely coherent or consistent). I suggest that we look elsewhere to solve the problems of mankind.

mjwatson said...

This could really turn into a whole 'nother ball of wax type discussion. There's a debate among those who follow Strauss regarding his take on revelation and reason, or Athens and Jerusalem.

A recent book by a German interpreter of Strauss (Meier I think) argues that Strauss's whole project was dedicating to showing that Philosophy trumps Revelation as humanity's highest way of life (Strauss's brilliant broadsides against modernity unite his more religious and less religious admirers).

Other Straussians acknowledge that Strauss favored Athens over Jerusalem (and certainly Rome), but that while his head was in Athens, his heart was in Rome (this is Hadley Arkes' line).

More simply there's a question about Catholic Straussians or Straussian Catholics because, as Tom's post illustrates, Straussians are all about continuing to ask questions, and never being satisfied. The Catholic Church, while making room for questions and encouraging philosophy as it understands it, also offers answers, and even the Answer, to life's biggest questions.

Their common ground is their appreciation that there are big questions. But I'm not fully persuaded that the two approaches can be reconciled without taking away something essential from one side or the other. I'd be happy to be wrong though.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Is it really that hard to see that there is some certainty going on here?

Matt ... very well said.

Tlaloc said...

If we want to return to the original question, let me say this:

Is it really hard to imagine that people will see the fundamentalist right as nothing more than an American Taliban when it, for instance, tries to prevent an HPV cure and vaccination?

Why would it do so? Because not having to fear the disease might be a disincentive for sex.

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/sex/mg18624954.500

""Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims,"

before you ask Bridget Maher is from the Family Research Council, not exactly a lightweight in the fundamentalist circles. Founded by Dobson and part of his Focus on the Family.

Not some anonymous wacko but a person at the heart of the movement. And she doesn't want to save these women from cancer (which HPV can cause) because they might enjoy sex.

That's why the hard right gets called the American Taliban, they earned the name.

Tlaloc said...

sorry should be "disincentive for abstinence."

HPV is of course the primary argument used against condoms since the virus can be transmitted by the skin to skin contact of the gential region rather than by fluid transmission of the semen.

Take that threat away and the wobbly case for abstinence only eduction becomes even more untenable.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Strauss and Catholicism part in that Strauss rejects natural law for natural right. Me, I just think he's afraid of Thomas.

I've seen Strauss as one who looked through the door at theism, found nothing for himself, but still left the door open for others. But I think that even after studying the rabbinic tradition his whole life, he misunderstands faith and God: the questions never cease, because one cannot know the mind of God.

Faith is still zetetic, to use Strauss' favorite characterization of philosophy. One just chooses to keep looking behind that door instead of restricting all inquiry to what's outside it.

I shall certainly need Fr. Fortin's help on natural law---Strauss is a tough customer. He completely dismantled Carl Schmitt---"That Jew sees through me like an X-ray!"

Tom Van Dyke said...

For those interested in Strauss destroyed the proto-and-eventual Nazi Carl Schmitt (and that means you MJW), in a paper by an email acquaintance, Prof. Rob Howse of the UMich. (Via Meier, to boot. An embarrassment of riches.)

Schmitt is still considered one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century, but along with Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most brilliant, likewise succumbed to Nazism.

Strauss, for all his skepticism toward faith, saw the hollowness of the "triumph" of reason. It leaves nothing but ashes. There must be something more. He never found it, but never stopped looking.

mjwatson said...

Good read, thanks for the reference!

Evanston said...

Tlaloc, I'm having deaj vu on your comment. It seems a while back you equated limits to sexuality with a Taliban mentality. Now you quote someone about (public?) funding to cure HPV, and equate that with the actions of the Taliban. You're fond of taking minute examples and taking them to extremes. I could say that by getting married, you're history clearly indicates a preference toward limiting sexual freedom. That if Tlaloc were president, everyone would have to be married. Now, I realize that these are not entirely analogous, but in general you have a tendency to leap on the smallest factoid and blow it up beyond recognition.