Thursday, August 8, 2013
Friday, July 26, 2013
Thursday, March 8, 2012
I have been absent lately on the blogosphere, especially in regards to this contraception/freedom of religion debate. Thanks, Basil, for continually keep us posted. I've been hoping for some time to really reflect and organize my thoughts, but alas, the busyness of school (and school) has been a tad extreme. So all I have the time and space for is a rambling in regards to a few personal thoughts.
First, I think that both sides misperceive the motives of the other. This has nothing to do with right or wrong, or logic versus illogic, but simply a matter of misunderstanding. For example, secularists tend to perceive the religious as illogical, irrational, superstitious, and generally authoritarian. "All must live by the irrational and superstitious opinions I get from some crazy book written thousands of years ago by God knows who," is their parroting of the religious. But I also think the religious often misperceive the secularists, despite the fact that I think the secularists are in the wrong.
For example, I think a lot of people view Obama – and all those who fit in his particular political and social ideology – as being consciously hostile, anti-God, and filled with an agenda to destroy every and all religious sentiment and ideology in America. There's often a viciousness projected onto the hearts of the secularists. “I’ve never seen people so directly and intentionally fight for evil,” one friend of mine said recently. You can conclude that the secularists’ basic political agenda is hostile to religion without projecting this conscious viciousness onto the motivations of the secularists as human persons. I think this restricts open communication, as well as allows the secularists to scoff at the religious for labeling them as “Satan.”
Let me make up an exaggerated example. If there were a religious organization that was fighting to prevent interracial marriage in the United States, I think a lot of us, even those strongly religious, would argue against these measures on mainly secular terms. We might find the group’s appeal to “freedom of religion” as thinly veiled racism; and we wouldn’t want their appeal to "religious freedom" to propel them to make their religious beliefs law.
I understand that this issue and the issues we've been talking about are very distinct. I understand that there are legal, constitutional, and reasonable distinctions between this imagined example and the present political example. I simply bring it up because I think that a lot of secularists in our present situation view us the same way that we would view those of the earlier religion. The secularists might not be right to equate the two situations, but it's not helpful, from any standpoint, to see them as hellishly hostile to religion, if they simply see this as a rights issue. From their standpoint, they're fighting for something basic and human. This can be true even if their political agenda is hellishly hostile to freedom of religion. I'm simply making the point that religious should consider the psychological motivation of secularists.
But now a word to those secularists. I have a lot to say, but I’ll leave it to one comment right now. If we were able to ask our Founding Fathers about this present situation, I don’t think they would understand it. The Christian ideology was so intertwined with everyday American living that the idea that a Christian belief might be labeled as dangerous or wrong by a prevailing social ideal would be foreign. Morality was grounded in faith.
Nowadays secularists scoff at this grounding. “What ridiculous superstition!” they claim. But herein lies the irony: Where and how do the secularists ground their morality? The vast majority would probably point to reason. Where Christians use faith the secularist uses logic. But this is pretty silly and empty. Reason and logic can never get you morality, for the simple fact that reason and logic can never get you to the worth or dignity of the human person. Reason got us the Holocaust. Reason got us Communism. Reason got us many a bloody, inhumane revolution. Reason doesn’t get us morality.
So what exactly are the secularists using to ground their morality? Quite frankly, it’s simply a set of populist ideas resulting mainly from emotional calculation: Gay marriage can’t be wrong! It’s gotta be wrong to make a woman have a baby! It can’t be wrong to prevent a pregnancy! But these are gut feelings, empty expectations that spring from societies that have almost no formed consciences.
So who's more ridiculous? The person who believes that humans have value because they were made in the image and likeness of God and that’s why certain things are right and others wrong? Or the person who throws out all of this and simply claims some things are good and others bad because he feels like it’s gotta be so, or if it isn’t it’d simply be terrible?
Thursday, February 16, 2012
[Basil,] are you aware whether your insurance plan covers these things? Did that enter your mind at all when you signed up for it? Isn't the moral locus, my choice about use, as opposed to the option itself?
This seems to to be tangentially about religious freedom, and more about arguing about legality of catholic prohibited sex stuff. I.e no one is forced to pay for it, so the complaint is that it's available. Granted in the case of abortion pills that is a fair argument, (right to life trumping religious/secular freedom). In the case of straight contraception, doesn't a call to make contraception illegal amount to something like religious oppression, such as Evangelical's calling for a prohibition of alcohol?
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Why am I always hung up on Descartes? I’m not exactly sure. I have a few ideas, but they are only suppositions. Well, here I am again, ready to make a quick comment about our famous Catholic Frenchman.
I realized last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, that I actually disagree with the Cogito. Now, I’ve said time and time again that I disagree with where the Cogito takes us, or at least where Descartes and others think it does – and where it has brought us today. But I think I actually disagree with the statement itself.
Let’s recap: 1) I will try and doubt everything. 2) Can I doubt that I exist? 3) Well, if I doubt that, then something must be doing the doubting; therefore, 4) that something is me. This doubting, a form of thinking, has helped proved that I exist. Hence, I think, therefore I am. However, that’s not entirely true.
Really, the cogito should go something more along these lines: “I think, therefore, I know that I exist.” Without this little interlude, we assume that the thinking is what makes me exist, instead of the thinking being the means by which I know that I exist. It sounds like it’s splitting hairs, but I think it’s immeasurably important hairsplitting.
My self-reflection right at this very moment, my doubting of my own existence, can help prove that I exist. (What good this does, I’m not so sure.) But if I were spending this same moment not involved in the Cartesian doubt, my existence would be the same. My thinking has not caused my existence; my thinking has not helped my actual existence; my thinking hasn't helped prolong my existence. All my thinking has done has helped me prove that I can’t not exist while at the same time that I doubt that I do.
Why is this important? Because the Cartesian fallacy too closely aligns cognition with existence, which is not what Descartes proved. Suddenly our minds, the workings of thought, holds primacy. Suddenly thought becomes necessary to existence. But Descartes hasn’t proved this, and it can’t be proved via his hyperbolic doubt.
I’m not sure if Descartes wrote his cogito this way in order to make it short and snappy. I’m also not sure if, after the translation and cultural shifts, I’m interpreting correctly. Regardless, though, to simply say, “I think, therefore I am” isn’t true according to modern linguistics, and I thought I’d point it out.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Back to the moral and religious ambiguities of my Drew class on “Religion, Culture, and Conflict.” The origins of this post are earlier than this class, though: in a conversation with a fellow grad student and colleague at Seton Hall.
A few of us were grabbing some beers at a local bar, The Gaslight I think, and we were discussing our religious backgrounds. One of my fellow students was telling us about how she was raised Christian, but her boyfriend was Jewish. If they ended up getting married, she said, she didn't care how the kids were raised, as long at they were raised within some sort of religious heritage and practice. The comment made me scratch my head, but I didn't know the girl well enough to pursue the topic.
This story came back to me in intense clarity when a guest speaker came to speak to our class a few Mondays ago. He is a Methodist minister originally from Sri Lanka, a primarily Buddhist country. He has worked in conflict resolution around the world (especially in some tough cases in Africa); his specialty is dealing with the religious element of violent conflicts. He has some crazy stories.
He said that step 1 in establishing real religious dialogue is to “completely accept the Otherness of the Other.” While I could accept this statement within a specific interpretative lens, what he meant by this was to accept other religions as having the same value as your own. With my religious background and childhood, this sort of thinking makes no sense. If I accept that Christianity and Islam are equal, aren’t I accepting that both are false, and therefore neither have value? I know I’ve run across this idea many times before, but this speaker, as an intelligent and cogent communicator and thinker, helped me verbalize two very different approaches to religion.
There is the idea of religion as culture, as opposed to religion as truth. In the former version, religion is simply one piece of a culture – perhaps the most important – but it is not concerned, as is the latter version, with whether or not one religion is true and one is not. This is not, as I always assumed, on account of the philosophical problem of trying to find the “true religion.” People with this philosophical religious problem tend to be agnostic. Instead, this perspective views religions in the way that we might view other cultural practices.
For example, is it better to eat at a table or on the ground? Is one true? That’s a silly question to ask. We may say one is more practical, but even that judgment would probably have to do a lot with how we grew up with. Cultural practices and values differ, but except in issues that deal with human dignity and universal values, we don't say one practice is true, while the other is false – and even in issues of human dignity, we probably still wouldn’t use the terms true and false.
Likewise, according to this perspective, it’s silly to call one religion true and one false. As a cultural practice and tradition, we don’t use the labels true and false. Christians shouldn't call Hinduism false since this would amount to us calling a certain eating tradition from another country false.
On the other hand, religion as truth is concerned with, as you might expect, the truth/falseness of a specific religion. We don’t need to label other religions as harmful or dangerous, but we can label them false.
This is a very obvious distinction, and I’m sure I’ve thought about this before. But I suppose it is my religious background that automatically sees the religion as culture perspective as nearly incomprehensible. To be a Christian and not think a Muslim is somehow disordered in his religious thinking is nonsensical. If the Muslim isn’t disordered, then I must be. Or we both are. What I also didn't understand until lately is the sincerity of those who accept this version of religion, a sincerity that exists within an intelligent world. I would have supposed most people to be “hokey” if they didn't care whether or not their religion was true. But this speaker was very “non-hokey.”
From this perspective, you can understand why proselytizing is such a dirty word. It would amount to me going to an African culture and telling them that their language is false and dangerous, and that they need to learn English in order to “be saved.” Besides being silly, if people were to really do this and be serious in their attempt, it could be dangerous.
The problem with this view is that religions, at least the major religions, present themselves solely from the religion as truth perspective. They speak in absolutes. Besides, I would not accept religion if I assigned it to religion as culture. In fact, I would probably mock it the way a lot of scientists and other atheists do. If it were one cultural practice among others, I would probably see it as one that hinders real knowledge and truth. If I went to Mass every week and prayed to a God that I accepted wasn't real, and I did this only because it was part of my cultural heritage, I would take the whole experience as a farce. It would be a big game of pretend; and this is exactly what a lot of people view religion as. I guess I don’t blame them since so many religious people these days are really just asking for it.