Saturday, September 18, 2004

Religion, Past and Present

Jason Kuznicki's Positive Liberty is the best new blog I've come across in a long time. (The blog itself is not new. I simply mean that it is new to me.) I especially recommend his posts on the Reformation and Enlightenment:
It is a common platitude that Islam needs a Reformation, a Martin Luther to modernize and shake things up a bit. Whenever you hear this platitude, you may rest assured that the speaker is wholly ignorant of history. Reformation is probably the last thing that Islam needs--and a Reformation in Islam is certainly the last thing that we need.

In 1500, Christianity lay unconsidered and rather lightly upon the shoulders of Europe. It was gaudy, more than a little superstitious, perhaps a bit mildewed at the edges--but above all, the Christianity of 1500 was not nearly so violent as it had been in earlier times. [...] The Reformation was a ghastly atrocity from start to finish, full of fanaticism and cruelty.

Arguably, Osama bin Laden is the Martin Luther of Islam. But what Islam needs instead... is a Voltaire.

It needs science, skepticism, satire, and subversion. It needs a militant tolerance, one that is determined to stamp out fanaticism wherever it may lie.

Another great post on religion is from The Enlightenment Project:
Almost 10 years ago a committee of Episcopal Bishops produced a "teaching document" [...] I circulated this document amongst some of my colleagues for comment. All of us had taught ethics courses required of all students which most take as sophomores. We agreed that by the standards we set for students in these classes, the bishop's study document should get a C+, and that purely for basic literacy and spelling. [...]

I agreed with the bishops' conclusion [...] It was the poor quality of the bishops' arguments that that set my teeth on edge. [...]

The Church has gotten into trouble repeatedly by making claims that competed with the results of secular experts including notoriously Galileo and Darwin. Most clergy now recognize that they have no expertise in the hard sciences and no business issuing teachings about the age of the earth, the structure of the solar system or the origin of species. Still, they assume, with no more justification, that they have expertise in ethics.

So true, and so annoying! It's commonly asserted that science answers the 'how' questions, and religion answers the 'why' questions. But, as the editors at B&W ask, why should we take the latter's made-up answers seriously? Priests are no more experts in ethics than they are in cosmology. They've acknowledged the superior expertise of scientists, at least. Now it's about time they did the same for philosophers...


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