Monday, November 06, 2006

Don't Get Cocky, Klinghoffer

You may recall a conversation I had recently with The Rooster, in which we argued about religion. He called religion, "one of the most oppressive, evil forces in human history." I leapt to the defense of religion, arguing that it had the potential for good in its capacity to provide order and meaning. I only posted a tenth of our conversation, but I assure you that the argument was rousing and intensely debated for weeks. I thought I had made headway. Certainly, The Rooster continues to believe that religion is the root of all evil and I've continued to argue to the contrary; but we have a real dialogue going on, not a shouting match, but a conversation. It's one thing to argue relatively fruitlessly with a brilliant Rooster; it's another thing entirely when religious thinkers conspire to prove me wrong. In the National Review, David Klinghoffer writes, "[the] basic religious view, whether in its Christian or Jewish version, stands at loggerheads with secularism. The latter denies personal moral responsibility, which may in turn be the bottom-line point of disagreement between conservatives and liberals." Secularism does not deny personal moral responsibility, it just removes the motivation for moral behavior from God's hands. Homosexuality is not immoral, but co-opting religion to support intolerant viewpoints is.

Earlier today, Annie posted that "rabbis found ways to enshrine in law those values that they held dear." When slavery was legal and broadly accepted, religious leaders used religious texts to support slavery (not only is slavery found in the Bible, but there are biblical laws governing slave-holding). As the evils of slavery became apparent, religious leaders stopped using the Bible to defend an indefensible viewpoint; yet those texts did not change, the vocalized interpretation did because religious leaders find ways to enshrine in law those values they hold dear. Anyone who holds a bigoted viewpoint to be immutable because God says so without considering our history of adaptation and interpretation (particularly a man who claims to have revived the tradition of disputation), does a disservice not only to the potential of religions to unite and to heal, but to religious people with progressive perspectives.

11 comments:

Benjamin J. Cooper said...

The reason you aren't winning the argument is that you don't believe in it yourself. If you want religious belief to constantly admit the possibility of dogmatic change, then you negate the one thing that makes it religion - universal truth.

If we're going to get postmodernist here, I'd say that you can't vindicate any philosophy empirically, religious or otherwise. It's a toss-up as to whether Locke and Mill were right about liberty, or whether Hobbes and Han Feizi were right that people do better if oppressed. B.F. Skinner, on the basis of his scientific research, certainly thought that free will was an illusion and people, for their own good, should have their experiences engineered.

So, at the base of it, tolerance or intolerance of any behavior, be it wearing a tank top or having sex with animals, is based on some sort of arbitrary norm mostly unrelated to empirical science.

And while we're able to argue that, based on how we feel, some norms seem "more right" than others, basically you have to pick something to be true without knowing that it is.

If you can't let people do that, you can't let people sincerely believe in a moral philosophy.

harley said...

I do not agree that universal truth defines religion. Instead, religion is a social system, based on an agreed upon set of morals and mores, couched in the language of universal truth. Religion based on dogma (religion that precludes the constant possibility of dogmatic change) is a Christian conception of religion.

harley said...

P.S. Congrats on your job!

Benjamin J. Cooper said...

Thanks.

I think we're going to fundamentally disagree about religion, here.

In no small part due to other, separate philosophical beliefs about the nature of man, I believe that at least some of the tenets of religion by their nature must contradict observed reality. If you believe that "doing something because it's the right thing to do" is demonstrably beneficial in an empirical sense, then you don't have religion anymore.

So, to get back to your original post, when we talk about religious belief, we can argue about which irrational assumptions we should make about the way things are and why, but in my view you cannot just say that it's no good to make irrational assumptions.

Anonymous said...

Harley,

If indeed "religion is a social system, based on an agreed upon set of morals and mores, couched in the language of universal truth," then isn't it's project to deceive gullible people so that they sacrifice their will to the service of their faith? "Couching" is just a euphemism for "prevaricating," which is just a fancy word for "lying." My favorite Marilyn Manson t-shirt shows Jesus on the cross with the word be-LIE-ve written over it.

-TR

harley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
harley said...

What do you want me to say, TR? That religions are based on lies and therefore invalidated? It's not a "project to deceive the gullible." At its best, its a system of morals, laws, and government (often accompanied by cultural and national trappings) meant to bring order to chaos. All social systems ask their constituents to sacrifice some modicum of personal freedom ("their will") to create order for the benefit of the common good. You're a philosopher; you've read Rousseau. If you inherently disagree with such systems, then no response I offer will appease you. So, yes: religions are based on lies and their purpose is to deceive people into following their doctrines and forfeiting their free will.

Anonymous said...

Hey...I discovered that you and I have yet another mutual friend. His initials are MK, and he is the buffest pre-med ever.

harley said...

Don't change the subject.

Anonymous said...

Answer your GCHATS!!!

Anonymous said...

Harley,

Tell me what you think of this.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/05/books/review/Margolick.t.html?ref=books

-The Rooster