Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Religious Immunity

This is an odd remark:
the left, to its discredit, frequently dismisses the views of conservative opponents on, for example, abortion, church-state separation, or feminism as irrational bigotry, when the conclusions of most people who hold such views stem from deeply held, and morally reasoned, religious convictions.

Surely "irrational bigotry" and "deeply held religious convictions" are not mutually exclusive categories. The mere fact that you believe something fervently by no means guarantees that you are right to do so. Yet common rhetoric and discourse would have us believe otherwise. To say that a view derives from one's religious convictions is to mark it as off-limits, immune from rational criticism. It's considered somehow "offensive" to question religious beliefs, or to so much as consider the possibility that they might not be well-grounded or rationally defensible. Needless to say, this isn't a good thing for reasoned discourse.

Granted, the quote from Alan Wolfe above isn't so explicitly absurd, as it does sneak in the clause: "and morally reasoned". Assuming this means something like "well reasoned", then it really is mutually exclusive with "irrational bigotry". But then it's this "morally reasoned" clause which is doing all the work, so why mention the "deeply held religious convictions" at all? This window dressing carries no rational weight, the only purpose for it that I can see is the pernicious rhetorical intimidation. You know, the implication that it would be "intolerant" and "offensive" for you to criticise any position that derives from "deeply held" religious beliefs. It's a clear example of passive-aggressive bullying tactics.

Anyway, if we ignore this rhetoric and focus on the substance of Wolfe's remark, all he's done is assert that most religiously derived moral views are "morally [well] reasoned". Is this true? It doesn't seem obvious to me. Conservatives tend to value obedience to authority over freethought, and "obedience to divine rules" seems to be their standard conception of morality. When your ethical understanding is limited to something so arbitrary as "do whatever [the minister says] the Bible says", I really don't think that's a far cry from "irrational bigotry" at all. The fact that religious conservatives hold to their views with dogmatic fervour is no defence. Quite the opposite in fact. These conservatives are irrational precisely because their views are based on "deeply held religious convictions", rather than reflective thought. Wolfe's attempt to twist this vice into a virtue is simply bizarre.

7 comments:

  1. Ok, I am no conservative, but I think there are some points to be made here.
    One I think it is not true that conservatives "tend to value obedience to authority over freethought" or that the morality of a conservative necessarily, or even usually, consists of obedience to divine rules. It think this trap of assuming that our opponents (assuming that 'conservative' in New Zealand has roughly the same sense as in the States) are just dumb or irrational is one to be avoided.

    Here is a reason, derived from Rawls, that would tell in favor of not dismissing views that spring from deeply held religious convictions. If you accept, like Rawls, that no coercion is justified that could not in principle be justified to the people who are going to be coerced, then you must be able to say something to the deeply religious person that takes account of their views and shows them some modicum of respect. Not the respect due to beliefs that are true, but respect enough to show that you respect the person who holds the beliefs. This would mean, I take it, not simply treating religion as necessary failure of rationality, or as something to be escaped. The reasons you give them must not entail that all the most important things to them are silly or a waste of time, or you have not lived up to Rawls' standard, as set forth in Political Liberalism.

    That said, I don't think Rawls is right in Political Liberalism, but this is a very popular view which would accord consideration even to religious views that are false and not well-reasoned.

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  2. that is, I think that is true.

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  3. Well, I wasn't really recommending that we should dismiss religious views. Maybe we should, or maybe we shouldn't, that's not a question I meant to address in this post. Rather, I was criticising Wolfe's assumption that a moral view is necessarily reasonable just because it stems from religious beliefs.

    'I think it is not true that conservatives "tend to value obedience to authority over freethought" or that the morality of a conservative necessarily, or even usually, consists of obedience to divine rules.'

    Well, I can only speak from my own experience, and I haven't spoken to every conservative on the planet, but I think you're just plain wrong here. Most conservative Christians, in my experience, believe something along the lines of Divine Command Theory. They are always talking about how the Bible is the ultimate authority, not 'mere' human judgments, etc. Whether this means they are "just dumb or irrational" will depend on our assessment of such positions. It's no mere "assumption" about their character on my part.

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  4. Very poorly handled reasoning on your part (which is why I won't stop by this site again).

    "The mere fact that you believe something fervently by no means guarantees that you are right to do so."

    The writer, as quoted, is not claiming to be "right". He is defending himself against claims of "irrational bigotry" by claiming that the views of religious are well-reasoned. That is not a claim to being "right" it is a defense against being called "irrational". You also claim your views are "well-reasoned" and would object to being called irrational. (You probably even reacted to my use of quotation marks.) Frankly, he's saying his opinion is as good as yours. You are claiming that it is not (and in doing so you justify his contention).

    You simply added baggage to his argument that did not exist, then ripped your own argument, not his, apart.

    As far as those who attack others for their religious beliefs - are THEIR views "morally well reasoned" in every instance? Can you prove it? No you cannot, yet you lay a burden of proof you cannot meet at the feet of another. And THAT is an act lacking in morality.

    You certainly have a right to your opinion. Your insistence on being granted moral superiority in your opinion is another matter.

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  5. These conservatives are irrational precisely because their views are based on "deeply held religious convictions",

    From my personal knowledge of many theists' rationales, I would say they hold these views regardless of their reflective thinking. What is more amazing to me still is that they seem to take PRIDE in this irrational process as if it is the very thing that makes them correct in their thinking.

    If I Believe anything about humanity, it is that the numbers of humans who think this way WILL slowly ebb. I am quite positive that none of us will live to see that retreat give way to Reason as the premier decision making tool. Still, I honestly believe our species' history predicts this happening.

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  6. Snitch,

    1) I never claimed that most liberals or atheists have well-reasoned views, so why should I need to "prove" anything?

    2) "right to do it" in that context means "justified", i.e. "rational". I was merely pointing out that the mere fact that you believe something fervently by no means guarantees that you are justified in doing so. Only an idiot could deny this. Sadly, that doesn't seem to narrow down the options in your case...

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