Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Great Discussion on Youtube

Hi Guys,

I was surfing the tubes this morning and found this great discussion on Bill Maher's show. Here is a link to it on youtube.

I think it's interesting for a couple of reasons. First, because they are talking about "Jesus Camp" a documentary that I never got to see here in my small, Midwestern town. Second, because they quickly depart from talking about the movie and embark on a discussion of the nature of religion itself. I agree with Bill Maher on this one quite strongly.

Take a look at the clip. It's a good conversation.


The Law Talking Guy said...

It's good to see public dicussion of religion, but also disappointing to see a discussion that consists of two atheists, a liberal Muslim, and a right-wing fundamentalist Christian.

I'm a Christian, but I agreed with Bill Maher. I think the Fox News reporter (the wingnut fundie, in case anyone really needed that clarification) was dead wrong.

I was particularly appalled by her statements concerning the Fox News reporters who were kidnapped by Muslim extremists and agreed to deny their faith in order to be released. She said that real Christians could not do that. Why? Because is a radical - just like those Muslim extremists - who believes that speaking the words, "I believe Jesus is Lord" is the essence of "faith."

Many people are talking now about how the conservatives or fundamentlists of all religions (fundamentalist Hindus, Muslim Islamist extremists, Ultraorthodox Jews, evangelical/fundametnalist Christians, Mormons, conservative Roman Catholic Christians) have much more in common with each other than with their liberal/modern co-religionists. Liberal Christians (Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic), Muslims (Sunni, Shi'a, Druze), and non-orthodox Jews (all of whom exist in very large numbers, by the way - they're just not sexy or weird so they don't get on TV) have much more in common intellectually and spiritually with atheists and secularists than with fundamentalists of their own stripes.

In other words, the great cultural divide is not between the relgious and the secular, as RBR and Bill Maher suggest, but between liberals and fundamentalists. Differences over the intellectual proposition of whether there is more than a material world is relatively minor, I would argue, than differences between values. RBR and I agree, I believe, on almost everything in terms of values, but we disagree about whether we find those values in a religious context or an atheistic ethical structure. BFD. The Fox News lady and I scarcely recognize each other as co-religionists (she would be more likely to call me a non-Christian than I would be to deny her the right to categorize herself) despite the fact that we could both likely recite the Nicene creed without blushing.

It would be equally silly if atheists of the thoughtful (sort of) variety like Bill Maher were replaced by radical Raskolnikovian nihilists or hedonists or Ayn Randists or Nietzscheans. Some atheists (of the Ayn Rand variety) do NOT share the values that RBR and I do, but believe in an amoral atheism where the strong should dominate the weak because they are powerful enough to do so and, with life being so short, they should exploit it to the fullest. These people, despite their militant atheism, actually have more in common with, say, the ultra-Orthodox or Islamists than with me, because their value system is not based valuing shared common humanity.

I should also add that Bill Maher should have acknowledge that he thinks he is superior to the Fox News lady with the same venom - precisely as he accused her.

I've said many mouthfuls, but I hope they are somewhat digestable without causing flame-ups.

Raised By Republicans said...

I like the idea of seperating values, faith, and institutionalized religion.

I also think that if anyone is going to get the Wingnut Fundies to modify their radicalism it is going to be progressive Christians rather than atheists. They simply won't listen to the Bill Maher's of the world.

Her statements about how "hungry" she thought Maher was an example to me about why the LTGs of the world must take the lead in this debate. The Wingnut Fundies have no respect for atheists because they think they are fundamentally flawed people and really see their point of view as a kind of mental illness.

Raised By Republicans said...

Here is follow up question. Does having faith in a supernatural religious system discourage the search for knowledge? That is are there lines of scientific inquirey which religion is likely to declare to be a waste of time?

If so, is it good or bad for society that people with these restricted views of appropriate lines of scientific research should have vetos over policy in these areas?

USWest said...

For the record, I can no longer able to recite the Nicene Creed at all, much doing it without blushing.

RBR, I am not sure I accept the premise of your question. The premise seems to be that Faith (notice Capital “F”) and reason are incompatible and that Faith and intellectual inquiry are equally incompatible. Religion doesn’t block scientific lines of inquiry. People do. The Catholic Church used to excommunicate those who taught that he sun was the center of the universe. It threatened their fundamental concept of the relationship between God and man and thus their ability to control man. They changed eventually because the science was too compelling and because they found new ways to control people. At the same time, the Church (with the help of many Muslim scholars I might add) presided over the gathering and preservation of knowledge over the centuries and still has some of the best schools, universities, and hospitals, in the world. The issue isn’t one of Faith, but of personal interest. The Crusades were about empire building and wealth accumulation, not religion.

Now flip it around. I can block your line of inquiry because if you succeed in your research, you will destroy something I value, i.e. turning water into fuel, you will destroy my lucrative oil business. So I will lobby hard to get that scientific research halted. And I might even expropriate religion to justify my choice because it seems less craven and this appeal to some grand ideal is more effective in getting others to agree with me. This is exactly what terrorists do. It is what the fundamentalist Right has done. It is what Exxon Mobile does when it shows me commercials of green fields protected by safe technologies, trying to convince me it is a good corporate citizen, while at the same time lobbying my congressman to vote against CAFE standards.

Does George Bush have the right to block stem cell research based on his Religious beliefs/doctrines? I ask, does that really matter? Is it a question of motivation that bothers RBR or of the outcome, or both?

Is cloning for the reproduction of one’s self ethical? If we agree it isn’t, we already accept a limit on “knowledge”. If back in the 1940s we knew the impact of the A-bomb, would we still have developed it? Would we be willing to bypass the promise of nuclear energy to avoid its destructive and political force? Just because you can, does that mean you should?

GW probably agrees with RBR and me that there is a great deal of benefit from stem cell research. But Bush has slowed that research because he thinks an embryo is human and should be protected. He isn’t opposed to the research itself, but to the creation and destruction of embryos simply to harvest the cells. RBR does not agree that the embryo is human and that there is great benefit to be had from moving forward with all due hast on stem cell research. I think that stem cell research is a great thing that should be pursued; I don’t think the embryo is human; I am willing to accept slightly slowed progress until we have properly considered the ethical ramifications and that we have some means to assure the proper use of this knowledge. These are nuanced arguments. To me, the real question is about the good of scientific knowledge when placed in the hands of those without the wisdom or fortitude to use it properly.

This leads me to my next question: By what mechanism would we prevent fundamentalist nut cases from running for Congress or getting into the White House? Do we give them a Meyers Briggs? Have them go to e-harmony and do a personal profile? Bar voters from voting for them? I sort of thought that Democracy was the answer to this problem.

There is this great episode in the “West Wing” where the Catholic president has to determine whether or not to commute a death sentence. He struggles. The death penalty is in contradiction to his Catholic Faith. He can find now legal reason to commute the sentence. And he ultimately refuses to commute the sentence because in so doing, he would create an undesirable precedent for future presidents, namely contravening the law because of one’s personal belief system. In this fictional version or things, the President had to choose man’s laws over what he believed to be God’s laws. I think many of us, regardless of our type of faith find ourselves in just that crawl space between faith, reason, truth and the desire to do right.

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG writes, "It's good to see public dicussion of religion, but also disappointing to see a discussion that consists of two atheists, a liberal Muslim, and a right-wing fundamentalist Christian."

Actually, for the record, there was 1 atheist (Bill Maher), 1 liberal Muslim (Reza Aslan), 1 liberal Christian (Bradley Whitford) and 1 fundamentalist Christian (Sandy Rios). My fellow Citizens may find it amusing that the one whom LTG mistook for an atheist (Whitford) is widely reported to be an Episcopalian.

Dr. Strangelove said...

USWest writes--rather eloquently, I thought--of the, "crawl space between faith, reason, truth, and the desire to do right." I imagine that many liberal Christians would agree with her sentiments. Others, however, may well believe these four are one and the same. Similarly, while USWest interprets Bartlett's dilemma (in the West Wing episode she mentioned) as a choice between man's laws and God's laws, others would view it as a search to reconcile apparent conflicts in God's moral teachings (i.e. respect for life vs. respect for law). Some Christians would not comprehend the notion of a balance between man's laws and God's laws--for how could even the sum of all man's laws outweigh even the least word of God?

USWest's comment underscores what I believe is the critical difference: there are those whose see their faith as a guiding principle, and those who see it as the only principle. One can reason with the former, because they yet remain open to all the evidence of the cosmos. To reason with the latter, however, one can only reason within the context of their faith--theological arguments only, please--and as far as I'm concerned, trying to debate complex, modern issues like theraputic cloning using only theology is like trying to build a house out of rotting fish.

The Enlightenment gave us American Democracy. It is incumbent on all of us to use that Democracy to defend the Enlightenment.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm laughing at Dr.S.'s revelation about Brad Whitford. Obviously, I only saw part of the clip and did not see him identify himself at any time as theist.

As for that West Wing episode, I sometimes take issue with the idea of choosing between man's laws and God's laws. This choice should not happen unless your idea of "God's laws" is a set of relatively arbitrary propositions that are not matters of conscience also. That view of "God's laws" is, itself, a rather conservative, fundamentalist vision. Liberals of all faith traditions take a different view. If God is Good, then it folows that his laws and the dictates of conscience should be coherent, perhaps even isomorphous if we have clean consciences. It is only a God who contradicts reason and conscience that creates a conflict of laws of that kind. And that kind of God is the danger.

If the President were an atheist who had a moral conviction against the death penalty, what should we think of his willingness to ignore his conscience in executing the law? Would there be, for one thing, the same sort of picturesque drama for TV? Do we want a president to abjure his own conscience in following the dictates of Congress? I thought President Bartlett should have chosen the intellectually honest course of commuting the death sentence openly because he (not the church or God) believed that it was immoral to carry it out and he would not do so. Or that he believed that it was more important to carry out the law as written than the dictates of his own conscience, however strong they may be. I'm not sure which one would be the better of these two options, by the way.

FYI, one of my problems with Roman Catholicism is its insistence that people adhere to the magisterium despite reason and conscience. And, of course, the cynical way in which the vast majority of catholics ignore the magisterium on birth control and divorce, yet profess their fealty to it all the same.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I forgot to add, of course, that immoral civil laws (such as slavery) are also the cause of the conflict. Few today would condemn a president who refused to cooperate with slavery by favoring man's law over God's law (as we now see it) in that context.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR - as for taking the lead in these discussions, keep one thing in mind. I am viewed by fundies as apostate, not just a heathen. The hatred is always greatest for the apostate. Remember the "Life of Brian" - the People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine hates the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine much more than it does the Romans.

That being said, I believe that, as a Christian, I am commanded to seek dialog with all people, including other Christians of the conservative type. As much venom as I sometimes spew on this blog as a release valve, I understand that my duty is to act out of love towards fundamentalists, and to overcome my revulsion to them in order to do so. At least in small doses.

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