Wednesday, October 04, 2006

the philosopher speaks

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a rant about my intolerance of religious intolerance. I wasn't sure whether my position was justified, so I asked Candian M to see what he thought. Why Canadian M? 1) He's a philosophy-talkin' guy (philosophy of biology to be exact, but he's general shit too). 2) Partly because of his philosophical training and partly because of his all-round good-guy demeanour, I find that, for me, he often sheds new light on issues, forcing me to see things from a different perspective.

For these reasons, and more, I'm appointing Canadian M SW's resident philosopher. Unless he emails me and tells me to retract that decision because he's invested too much time, energy and money into his education to have it jeopardised so.

Anyway - enough of the small talk, kids! Here's his response:

Regarding your blog post: I certainly sympathize. Not being religious, and feeling that religion is often a scourge we should purge, I find it hard to relate to religious fervour. I mean, I feel really out of touch with the incessant outward shows of JC love in the states. I take it that your post was expressing the same disconnect and also contempt for the bickering and blood shed that results when fervour meets fervour. And I imagine you meant for it to be a selfish rant (important, those rants), not something you expected the respective religious sides to read and benefit from. So although it didn't exude tolerance or patience for complexities, as you acknowledged, I don't think it needed to.

That said, I do of course think there are complexities that may warrant a more tolerant view. Before judging the moral worth of acts I think it's important to describe the acts accurately. I think that if one attempts to describe the current religious bickering charitably, it may turn out to be more rational that it at first appears. This may not entirely vindicate recent acts of the fervourous (e.g., Pope's comments, Muslims' reactions) but I wonder if it will slow our criticisms a little.

Here is how I start to cast a rational light on the bickering. Doesn't it seem, once you get past the surface of the issue at all, that it's not really God that is at issue here? Rather, God is just a proxy for the real bone of contention: wholly different ways of life. What Muslims and Christians are really battling over now is how life should be lived. And this is hardly trivial. Different ways of life correspond to distinct answers to the most important questions and the worth-fighting-for issues. E.g., what is the right balance for a government to strike between equality and freedom? Which freedoms are more important than others? Which freedoms are worth sacrificing for others? How should we distribute resources and why that way? Should women have their genitals mutilated? Should gays be punished? Is habeus corpus a good idea? How about torture? To what extent should the public fund health care and education? Why is religious freedom a good idea? Why shouldn't I be able to drive an SUV and drain agricultural fields into the ocean? Why shouldn't I be able to protest against people who drive SUVs and drain agricultural fields into the ocean?

I think that some bickering is warranted when the ways of life that people are fighting about are a) sufficiently distinct and b) negatively impact the ways of life of others. Sure, it is a mistake for people to presume that God is a symbol for their values and ways of life. And it is a mistake to think God even exists. But do you think it is a mistake to value your way of life, and cherish it enough to protect it when threatened? Of course, answers to this vary case by case. Hell yah, worth protecting if you were Dutch when Nazis plundered your town to steel your way of life. Indeed, worth protecting with equal force, I think. Worth protecting when the Pope implies your way of life isn't rational or worthy? Certainly not with force, but maybe with a few whimpers and protests signs. Depends on context though. Would it have been worth it in, say, 1993 when Muslims didn't feel their way of life threatened so much by the west? Probably not. Back then, they should have felt their way of life (or their "belief in God" to use the mistaken proxy) more secure; shouldn't have felt insecure about their faith in it. But now, things are different. If I were a Muslim living in the middle east I'm not sure I'd feel secure in my beliefs, knowing that the states are bent on plundering the region for their own gain. When the stakes are upped like that, maybe the Pope's comments are worth a sign or two. Because every little bit is starting to add up as something that confronts you.

Of course, one of the catches with this whole attempt at charitably describing the situation is that it assumes that beliefs in different Gods map reasonably well onto beliefs in different ways of life. Maybe the mapping isn't sufficiently isomorphic to justify recent whining. And maybe we need to underline the commonalities between ways of life rather than just differences. But those are further questions to discuss only after we've granted that in the mind's of many, more meaningful things than God are probably at stake, and that by mistakenly reducing difference to differences in Gods, people are concealing more significant differences.

Okay, that was a stab at tolerance. What can I say, the Pope is an idiot and Muslims shouldn't listen to idiots.

(Though maybe Muslims have to listen, e.g., because Catholics listen to the Pope and an awful lot of Catholics go the polls in western countries that invade Muslims.)

What do you think?

What do you think indeed?

My all-too-brief response:
I knew that my rant was simplistic, selfish etc – as you point out – but you framed things in a way I’d maybe only fleetingly considered. Having said that, I maintain that I abhor the violent reactions to religious (or way-of-life) “slurs”. While at some level I can understand (but not condone) violence because of, for example, oppression (real or perceived), I really struggle with such reactions to simplistic utterances. That also goes for western thugs who beat up a drunk bloke at the pub who gives them a bit of lip (to cite one example).

And the SW resident philosopher's to that:

You can understand violent reactions to oppression, but not to simplistic utterances; I think the simplistic utterances are often part of more sustained, systematic and often concealed oppression. And so by your reasoning I think we should sometimes "understand" the simplistic utterances as well. Though like you, hardly ever do I feel I can condone violence. (I guess in the abstract, I never condone violence. But in concrete cases, sometimes the abstract doesn't mean much. That is, "no violence" is a principle for me that admits of exceptions in particular cases, such as when Nazis plunder my village and way of life).

Now (if anybody's read this far) I'm leaving this open for discussion. Which is of course a complete joke, given roughly 10 people read this thing and roughly 3 of them leave comments. But I can dream, people. I can dream.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's a battle?

6:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no comment

10:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did read the whole thing and now I have a headache.

can I be your Resident Procrastination Advisor?


12:06 pm  
Blogger Lone Gopher said...

I will read and comment but we still have no power and I'm su-oh behind at work right now so just bear with me(or wombat, whatever)


2:38 pm  
Blogger secret wombat said...

What's that rattle?

Bunkie - yes, if you can get anything done.

LG - sheeet, no power yet. We got ours back on Tues night. You got water?

7:11 pm  
Blogger Lone Gopher said...

Now I read. I missed the whole Pope-thing on the news but I guess I'll get along anyway. With my level of english it will be hard to give a complete (fullödigt is the word I'm looking for) answer, but I guess I can throw some gas at the fire.

Generally I think we all agree on (teorethical) non-violence and freedom of speech, so I won't list that, but:

- If you ask (really) devout religious people (i.e. the ones who are angry) I don't think they would say there's is "more meaningful things than God". Their God is the Centerpiece in their way of life.

- I wouldn't assume that the thought that God exists is wrong. By arguing that they're wring in the first place it sounds a bit like the rest of their actions are those of fools.

- I'm having trouble with Hell Yeah it's worth it if it's Nazis beating Dutch people but not (?) Westerners rampaging in Afganistan or Iraq. (it sounds a bit like we're right and you're wrong and that's why).

Well-o. I don't know if it's two coherent senteces in this one, but I'm keen to make your dream come true, Womby.


3:25 pm  

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