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February 17, 2006

Talkin' Religion

In his interesting opinion piece on the Danish cartoons, Robert Wright includes this observation:

"Most Americans tread lightly in discussing ethnicity and religion, and we do it so habitually that it's nearly unconscious."

Certainly, this is true. Wright thinks it's good -- a sign of civil "self-restraint." But, when it comes to religion, isn't this reticence -- this reluctance to discuss and debate -- why so many odd, seemingly un-thought-through notions survive? Isn't it why religious (or anti-religious?) beliefs sometimes seem to lurk in dark corners of otherwise well-lit minds?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at February 17, 2006 10:18 AM


I read Wright as making a different point, i.e., not so much to defend reluctance to discuss ethnicity and religion per se, but to caution avoidance of offensiveness, at least "until you've walked in the shoes of other people" and thus have some grasp of their frustrations. Again, I don't think this current controversy is really about religion, but haven't you often made the entirely plausible point that, with respect to religious belief, grasping the beliefs and commitments of "the other" is near impossible? We can, as you say, discuss and debate. But will discussions undo "un-thought-through notions"? Is this even a relevant standard? By the way, you noticed, I take it, that Wright said, "[T]o us secularists it may seem clear that joking about the murder of millions of people is worse than mocking a God whose existence is disputed."

Posted by: george at February 17, 2006 6:26 PM

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