Fairy Tales

Great article here by William Cavanaugh. Fairy tales are alive and well. So much conventional wisdom is just that. The idea that “religion” is the cause of violence in the world now, or historically, is suspect to say the least.

We have bought into the idea that we cannot disagree about fundamental matters without violence. I see no reason, historical or otherwise, why this should be so. In a democratic and pluralistic society, people should be free to give any reasons for their positions that they see as significant, even if such reasons are theological.

Society would be much freer if secularists dropped the idea that their reasons alone are “worldly” and therefore fit for public consumption. It would be much more refreshing if atheists like Blackford just abandoned the pretence of neutrality and said that they find many Christian ideas batty. Then we could perhaps have an interesting conversation about the ends of human life and best political ways to attain them.

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1 Response to Fairy Tales

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Great to hear from you. Batty indeed. Well, that is being done, but doesn't seem to help! I take it that you would think that Islam is not a cause of violence in the world today?

    “The idea that the church's area of concern could be reduced to “religion,” understood as essentially otherworldly, was a product of the final triumph of civil over ecclesiastical authority in early modern Europe.”

    Well, that is a rather unique vision of the catholic church and its essential purpose. Yes, it sought total totalitarian hegemony over everthing.. how did that work out? Not so well, though I'll grant that the church's electoral system was perhaps the most functional quasi-democratic system of political succession through much of western history, leading to its institutional durability. At any rate, the original point of the Jesus movement was not exactly to run the state or remake it, but to carve out a separate sphere.

    “The problem is that the scheme is presented as an historical solution that made peace by recognizing the true nature of “religions” like Christianity and Islam, when in fact it came about through a violent process of state-making that distorts Christianity, Islam and other traditions that are run through its worldly/otherworldly dichotomy.”

    So? I think the distortion of Islam that strips it of civil sovereignty is not a bad thing, however contrary to its own doctrines. That is the whole point of the history at issue- that civil affairs of this world are best decided on this-world criteria that are common / legible to all participants, rather than turning them into a screen for projections of otherworldly (what I would read as psychoanalytical) concerns.

    And even if the actual motives are this-worldly, (as the historians divine with hindsight.. tell that to the peasants of the time…), the rhetoric of religion tends to inflame what otherwise would be less absolutist, less “objective”, in your parlance. For when one's good is “objective” and unshakable, one is incapable of negotiating.

    “It is rather to say that in a truly pluralistic society people should be free to be themselves, to talk about what they see as the true ends of ordinary life without cordoning off their deepest convictions.”

    Very well. How would Mitt Romney come off if he were running as a Mormon evangelist and filtering all his political choices through that prism? Probably not very well. Firstly, most would disagree with him, so becoming a majority leader would be out of the question. More importantly, the criteria he is using would be totally unhinged from reality. How many aircraft carriers we need might be predicated on the schedule of the second coming and the prior war starting the middle east, or whatever.. These might be a person's deepest convictions, but they -objectively- have no place in rational deliberation about our future. One might as well consult astrologers.

    “We have bought into the idea that we cannot disagree about fundamental matters without violence.”

    Absolutely not- this is false. People disagree all the time, as we do now. We have bought into the idea that the common state in which we all necessarily live can not be hijacked by any form of religious doctrine- for the twin reasons that such doctrines are extraordinarily divisive even among its own adherents (schism is perpetual!) not to mention non-believers, (violating freedom of conscience of those forced to abide by the associated policies), and secondly that such doctrines in their very form and otherworldly focus are bad foundations of public policy.

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