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September 17, 2006

The Big Bad Wolf

Is there not something intolerant at the heart of most existing religions? The logic, if you'll forgive this foray into the obvious, runs like this:

1. We have found the one, true way to heaven, salvation, righteousness, enlightenment, whatever.

2. And therefore (this is occasionally implicit but usually explicit) everyone else is wrong and, consequently, lost, deluded, damned, dangerous, whatever.

Pope Benedict XVI.jpgIn settling into pluralistic democracies religions have tried to deflect attention from their big teeth by putting on bonnets and skirts. But then they open their mouths and.... The current example, of course, is the line now making headlines and causing riots from that speech by Pope Benedict XVI. The pope was quoting a 14th-century Christian emperor:

''He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'''

Of course, Benedict's slap at atheists in the same speech, which we have discussed, has failed to cause any riots.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at September 17, 2006 10:16 AM


Breaking News: Pot calls kettle black. Riots ensue.

Posted by: Catana at September 17, 2006 11:34 AM

You assume wrongly, Mitch, that 1 and 2 are exclusive to religions, unless you wish to expand the definition of religion to include virtually every worldview or system of thought. To demonstrate the falsity of that assumption, let us consider the question of "scientism," the assumption that science is the only legitimate path to knowledge. To those who accept this view, nonscientific or unscientific modes of thought are irrational, foolish, and worthy of contempt. Those who accept nonscientific or unscientific modes of thought as equally valid or perhaps more so are condemned as stupid, ignorant, deluded, and anti-science.
I refer you to the current debate over evolution. Those who do not accept evolution (for whatever reason) are vilified and deemed an "enemy of science" or an idiot with no common sense. Of course, this idea takes as "gospel" that evolution is "common sense" and that those who reject it or simply fail to accept it do so solely on irrational, anti-scientific grounds. This fails to take into account scientific illiteracy, which is no more an indicator of hostility to science than illiteracy is an indicator of hostility to literature. It also fails to acknowledge that evolution can only be rationally accepted by someone who has examined the evidence and has the proper tools at their disposal to interpret this evidence correctly. In the absence of this evidence and these tools, a teleological cause makes more common sense. On the other hand, many who accept evolution do so not based on a rational, scientific assessment of the evidence but on their belief or "faith" that what science says is right.
The knee jerk reaction of many so-called science-worshippers is based on what you describe in 1 and 2, not on a rational assessment of the facts at hand. Is science therefore a religion? Or are we defining as exclusively religious qualities that are innately human and applicable outside the bounds of religion? Based on the evidence, I believe the latter is correct.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 17, 2006 2:08 PM

Well, Mitch made no such assumption and did not exclude sciencism or whatever you want to call it.

Hey, why DON'T we riot?!?! Oh yeah, they'd love that, but it's a good day to die :)
We don't get no respect....

Posted by: Jay Saul at September 17, 2006 3:13 PM

I read the argument as assuming that the characteristics were particularly or exclusively religious. If I was wrong, then I apologize to Mitch. However, my point stands. Is there intolerance in the way many religions are practiced? Absolutely. Is this a particular characteristic of religion as traditionally defined or is it simply an inherent aspect of humanity that we are given to extremes? I believe the latter is correct.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at September 18, 2006 9:14 AM

Seeing a documentary interview with the Dalai Lama this past weekend kept bringing recent comments on this blog to mind. ("10 Questions for the Dalai Lama" by Rick Ray; filmmaker was present for Q&A; His Holiness is in the area tomorrow; very big deal here. Recommend the film if you have not seen it, though some aspects of the film, and of Ray himself, were a bit annoying.)

Listening to the Dalai Lama speak, so easily and simply, about the need to let go of ideas/customs/behaviors that are 'out of date' (his words) seems relevant to this thread. In response to a question on how to assess the need to preserve cultural/ethnic traditions in the face of increasing modernity, His Holiness suggested that some traditions should really be recognized as out of date, that not every single tradition needs preservation; that sexism generally (but especially as practiced in India re: widows) is out of date in today's world... that war, generally speaking, is an 'out of date' response to problems in the world.

Laughable comments, perhaps, in their simplicity. But nevertheless remarkable in their expression of wisdom, for me anyway. That he speaks from a place of genuine humility keeps them from being naive or laughable, to me. The insight (but not news) that Americans' greed prevents our ability to imagine happiness; that our driving acquisitiveness prevents our discovery of contentment; that we take ourselves much too seriously about everything... really registered.

Our discussion here of science vs religion, of ways to rationalize torture (I still don't get that one), even of whether atheism is becoming more tolerated == finally all irrelevant. Sobering experience, listening. The challenge of letting go, in the midst of living in the world. (Hell really is other people... )

Posted by: JM at September 18, 2006 11:44 PM

Science is a wonderful machine brought to life by our inquisitive and intelligent minds. Through it we can understand many of the previously unexplainable and miraculous occurrences in the history of humanity. How did life come to be? The typical answer to this is basically either, "God created it all." or "How could it not out of the vast, and possibly infinite, expanse that is space?" Without science there is no doubt that we would be stuck in some dark age struggling to survive. Science has the potential to make life better then many of us can even possibly imagine. We could have a world with no pain, no illness, no suffering...and the list goes on and on. In fact science could easily make life effortless, we would create a world with absolutely no worries. But that leads to the one question we all dread contemplating, "What's the purpose of living, why are we here?" Can humans live a worthwhile life without worrying having any concerns in life?

Posted by: RH at January 10, 2009 4:42 AM

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