Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It’s Dicky makes the blogworld go round

What would we talk about if not for Richard Dawkins? The world is already crammed with reasonable people with sensible approaches to the areas of science/religion tensions, so the more cranky and visceral he gets, the more I love him. Does that make me a bad person?

Anyway, all the UK newspapers are getting into blogging (behind the curve of course, but better late than never), and here is an entry from Daniel Finkelstein of The Times:






Here is Richard Dawkins in Wired magazine:


Dawkins looks forward to the day when the first US politician is honest about being an atheist. "Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either House of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they've got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can't get elected."

So let's recap. Dawkins thinks that, on the whole, unless you are stupid (like say Sir Jonathan Sacks and Martin Luther King) then you will agree with him. If you are intelligent and say that you disagree with him, then you must be lying. Your motive for lying is that everyone else is stupid (unlike Dawkins) and won't vote for you unless you lie to them.

Regardless of whether Dawkins is correct about the existence of God, isn't this unpleasantly arrogant?






That isn’t really a recap of that extract – which is specifically saying that the statistical unlikelihood that apparently not a single Congressman is atheist can only be explained if some are fibbing – but it is a broadly accurate summary of Dawkins’s views in general.

Unpleasantly arrogant maybe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It is, after all, also a broadly accurate summary of Orrin Judd’s views: the only difference being that he sees America’s wilful anti-intellectualism as a good thing.

(PS. The first reply on the Finkelstein blog is funny.).

52 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Well, if the religious are either stupid or lying, doesn't that make intelligent "dunnoists" double-dumb? What's your excuse?

Does that make me a bad person?

Hark, the plaintive cry of the momentarily unsettled Duckian. Don't you worry, handsome. I have little doubt that before the sun sets this evening Duckians from far and wide will rush here to give you a big scientifically objective, rational, meritocratic hug.

November 14, 2006 3:13 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: Going through BrothersJudd withdrawal?

Duck: No, that's not what makes you a bad person.

November 14, 2006 6:59 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I read the Dawkins interview in Wired yesterday. I can't agree with Brit. The more I read what he says, the more I dislike him. He is probably the worst spokesman for secular people imaginable, worse even than Sir Elton, who you can cut some slack for merely for being your typical exciteable entertainer who puts more thought into his wardrobe decisisons than he does for his political philosophy. His views display more than sheer arrogance. To hold such views in the face of overwhelming evidence that there are an extremely large number of highly intelligent religious people displays a severe lack of intelligence on his part. He has scientific smarts, but his views of human nature show that he has the social intelligence of a seven year old.

Besides, if he thinks intelligence is a prerequisite for elected office, he's as daft as a dodo.

November 14, 2006 8:11 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

I found his insight that a bunch of politicians are most likely stupid or lying about an important subject rather lacking in originality.

November 14, 2006 8:28 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The second comment after Finkelstein was even funnier.

Way back, there was a to-do about admitting the first Mormons elected to the US Senate, because they had believed in polygamy before the religion was bludgeoned into renouncing that doctrine.

The majority leader, Boies Penrose, looked around the chamber and asked, what's the problem with admitting polygs who don't polyg? The room is already full of monogs who don't monog.

November 14, 2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck wrote: "He is probably the worst spokesman for secular people imaginable..."

Yup. I think Dawkins has done more to boost the acceptance of Intelligent Design and Creationism than any other single person. Maybe the Discovery Institute pays him to do his rants.

November 14, 2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Dawkins should pay much more attention to Sam Harris.

November 15, 2006 12:11 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

What Dawkins says in that quote is, I have no doubt, perfectly true.

His mistake is in thinking that the best way to rid the world of religion is to take arms against that sea of troubles - an approach both Quixotic and counterproductive. He thinks we 'need a debate' in society about faith and reason. That's the last thing we need.

The example of British religious decline clearly shows that the best way to get rid of religion is just to get on with things and not talk about it at all.

November 15, 2006 2:16 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

As the man is a hate-mongerer through and through, I see no reason to attribute or assume any good faith on his part (Same with Dennett). The most cogent critiques of big E evolution don't come from religion at all, they come from agnostics or even unbelievers like Berlinski and Stove, who simply act as cross-examiners and don't posit alternative explanations. Or even from fellow believing scientists like Ruse who demand honesty and rigour about what has been proven and what has not. It seems to me that Dawkins goes to extreme, bilious lengths to avoid addressing their critiques and that he uses his tirades against the religious (and his clumsy caricatures of them)to deflect any serious criticism of his theories. Why risk losing book sales by having a serious public debate on memes when you can have a high-profile debate with Haggard that will delight your fellow brights? He's a publicist's dream and a scientific fraud.

November 15, 2006 3:42 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

He's not a scientific fraud but he has two lives: the evolutionary biologist; and the anti-religious nut.

It's a pity he mixes them up so much because his ability to convey complicated scientific concepts to the layman is second to none. See River out of Eden, for example.

November 15, 2006 5:42 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

the best way to get rid of religion is just to get on with things and not talk about it at all.

Would that it were that simple. That works so-so for those like us who live in the world of ideas, but most people live in a world of action and it is simply not realistic to expect those who are tought to see others' beliefs as contemptible and dangerous to leave it alone.

The "religion as virus" meme (boy I love that word)is getting stronger everyday and with it are rapidly changing perceptions within the secular world as to how and why religion imposes itself on them. I'm afraid your sunny, civilized calls to ignore it all in a spirit of "leave the loonies alone" won't work if you continue to insist that guys like Dawkins are basically sound but just a little over the top with their manners. After all, you seem to share the same diagnosis of the evils of religion and the same goal of destroying it, differing only on timing and methodology.

Here is just one little example of how religion isn't really changing much but secularists are getting nasty and incoherent and seeking out conflict. In Montreal there is a small section where both Orthodox Jews and French-Canadians have lived together for generations. Bagel Heaven! There is also a YMCA there and the local ladies from the fitness class have taken to exercising in the latest spandex by a large window facing the street. The Orthodox have complained (I don't know whether because they feel tempted by their charms or grossed out). Reasonable discussions with the Y led to a good compromise where the Y agreed to frost the glass. End of story? Not on your life. The ladies angrily complained that a direct view of the sun and exposure to the street was all part of their "exercise experience". Who are these crazy religionists to deprive them of their baseline constitutional rights?

Now, the Orthodox haven't changed or launched a campaign for a theocracy. They are doing pretty much what they have always done. But the same day I heard that story my son was watching a TV clip from a 1950's hockey game and I was stunned to notice how almost all the men in the audience were sporting jackets and ties. Today indignant women insist on their right to force us to watch them kick, roll and sweat in skimpy florescent suits. And, like Dawkins, they are quite prepared to avoid being honest about what is really motivating them by playing an absurd pseudo-health card and pretending religion is some threatening force on the march that wants to confine them to nunneries to make their point.

This is the kind of seamless thinking that leads Skipper to see no difference between his very legitimate worry about Evangelical bullying in the Air Force with his extraordinary belief that the Ten Commandments on a plaque in a courthouse a thousand miles away is a threat to his liberty. Of course this kind of thing invites a reaction which is why the Evangelicals are pushing back (David noted recently that they weren't in any way a political force in the fifties and that Presidents then ended speeches with "Goodnight", not "God Bless"). But you guys refuse to accept any responsibility for that or for the parking of reason that attends much of it.

To conclude, the secular intellectual zeitgeist today is like that of the left in unstable countries that does all it can to undermine nascent democracy and then washes its hands of any responsibility when the predictable authoritarian reaction sets it in the name of stability. You Duckians are all wonderfully civilized chaps, but you are going to have to come clean on whether you are willing to respect and make compromises with your religious co-citizens or whether you are just looking for the least boodthirsty way of ridding yourselves of them.

November 15, 2006 6:31 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

I don't think I'm being dishonest.

Obviously I think the world would be better off without religious extremism, and I think we need to do something about it, though exactly what isn't obvious or easy.

I also think the world would be better off without any religion at all, in a general John Lennon sort of way, but I don't think we should actively do anything about that.

November 15, 2006 8:38 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Of course this kind of thing invites a reaction which is why the Evangelicals are pushing back (David noted recently that they weren't in any way a political force in the fifties and that Presidents then ended speeches with "Goodnight", not "God Bless"). But you guys refuse to accept any responsibility for that or for the parking of reason that attends much of it.

Yes, it was a wonderfully tolerant time where children were compelled to pray in public school against their or their parents wishes. If that is what the evangelicals are pushing back against, let them push back. The old traditions aren't always worth respecting. The ACLU goes to far with most of its First Amendment lawsuits, but the key rulings from the 1960s that took public schools out of the role of inculcating religion into chilren were justified, and the majority of Americans today are supportive of the idea of the separation of Church and State.

Evangelicals feel that they have some constitutionally guaranteed birthright to live in a Christian nation where all public institutions are a reflection of their beliefs and values. They weren't always that way. In the nineteenth century baptists were fierce defenders of the separation of church and state, mainly because they were the outsiders trying to protect their freedom of worship from mainline Protestant domination.

Nowadays every faith group, including seculars, feel like the outsiders threatened by the majority culture. There seems like more tension today, but I think that is for the better, because it is a sign that no one religious group really is dominating the culture.

November 15, 2006 8:41 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck wrote: "Yes, it was a wonderfully tolerant time where children were compelled to pray in public school against their or their parents wishes..."

Well, children were, and still are, compelled to sit still and listen to the teacher drone on, and on, and on. Seems like participating in a short prayer or saying "under God" in the pledge is the least of the kids' problems.

I really have trouble understanding how saying a prayer as a non-believer hurts you, because, as a non-believer, I end up saying prayers in various public things, and I feel no pain or discomfort. For example, every Monday I do Iyengar Yoga, which starts with some chant where I'm prostrating myself to some hindu dude named Patanjali with a crown of "a thousand headed cobra" and it doesn't seem to hurt a bit. When I end up at somebody's bar mitzvah or something, there's all those "Baruch ata Adonai..." prayers, and though my hebrew pretty weak, I know that Adonai is God, and though I don't believe in Adonai, I don't feel any negative effects by joining in. At a wedding in a Christian church I hear a lot about God, but for some reason it doesn't bother me a bit. Indeed, I find all these things moderately amusing.

I'm baffled as to why Duckians seem to find exposure to religion so painful. If you don't believe it, it's just a bunch of words.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but prayer will never hurt me.

November 15, 2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

My understanding is that Berlinski is not a freethinker.

I would think that, in Canada, access to the sun is a legitimate health issue. And why cannot the Orthodox simply not look in the window? There is a health club next door to my favorite donut shop, but I religiously keep my eyes to the front,lest I be tempted to take exercise.

Besides, what kind of Orthodox are these? The kind that kidnap little boys (zaddiks)? Or a better kind?

++++

On the suggestion of letting religion alone to wither on the vine, allow me to quote from H.E. Maude, 'Slavers in Paradise.' To set the scene, Christian Peruvians had just completed a genocidal sweep through peaceful Polynesian islands in 1962-3. The relative cost was worse than the German sweep of the Jews, eliminating up to 79% of the population of some islands. Most of the islanders had been converted to Christianity within the previous one to 12 years. Maude says:

'At first sight, one would expect that the communities would have turned against a new God who had seemingly failed them in their time of need and attributed the disaster which had occurred to their desertion of their former deities. . . .

'But from an analysis of trends during times of disaster one learns that (revulsion against the new creed) is a transient emotion and that in fact religious development takes place almost invariably during periods of crisis rather than those of security and material well-being.'

Maude goes on to say that even had the survivors been tempted to revert to their chthonic cults, they could not have, as the Christians had murdered everyone who understood the old rituals and stories.

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see.

November 15, 2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Bret,
I guess it depends on whether you take your responsibilities as a parent seriously or not, but if you think it is the government's job to usurp the parents role to teach religion and morality to their children, then I can't agree with you. Your scenario works perfectly well for a social milieu in which noone takes religion seriously, it's just a bunch of verbal nonsense that everyone has to endure to meet some bureacratic goal that noone understands or cares about. Which is probably why the Anglican church is in such a moribund state.

I take my own right to religious freedom seriously, and I take my authority and responsibility for my children's moral education seriously. It is not something that I will cede to the state or a majority of my neighbors. I guess I'm funny in that respect.

November 15, 2006 9:45 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

While Bret may not take the prayers seriously, the people who insist that the children say them do. And their motives are evil.

November 15, 2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Bret:

I'm baffled as to why Duckians seem to find exposure to religion so painful.

It's presumably because they don't see religion as an alternative or even competing world view. They see it as an infectious disease that could rob them of their precious bodily fluids or mental acuity or whatever. Asking them to listen to a prayer is, for them, like asking an old-fashioned mother to let her kids go outside in January without hats and mitts.

November 15, 2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

It's because we see religion as a religion, and dont tolerate being coerced into affirmations of creeds that we don't hold. What is so hard to understand about this? Bret obviously thinks life is just a game, so he doesn't care. But what about you Peter? Do you allow yourelf to be strong-armed into spouting words and creeds that are in conflict with your own? I assume you take your own faith seriously, and don't view it as just one of many different, interchangeable affirmations of goodness. Or do you?

November 15, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

If the words are so meaningless, why would even a believer repeat them?

It's about being a free and independent person. We don't require the religionists to sacrifice to Darwin, even just to be sociable.

November 15, 2006 1:25 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Some elements of standard religious education are harmless, but others are just rotten.

"God knows what you're thinking", for example, is a wicked thing to tell a child.

It's not just the Anglicans who've gone all touchy-feely happy-clappy and abandoned the hellfire sermons. Even the Catholics have stopped doing it, presumably because they grew up and realised it was inhumane.

November 15, 2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar asks: "If the words are so meaningless, why would even a believer repeat them?"

They're meaningless to the non-believer. I assume they probably have some value to the believer.

So public prayer has benefit to the believer and doesn't seem to cost me anything, so that would be a net gain in utility if other secularists were like me.

However, given the Duckians rationalist perspective (which seems to me to be remarkably non-rational for rationalists), I can see that the apparently severe negative utility suffered by them probably outweighs the positive utility for the believers (even though it's a much larger group), so I guess I understand why they fight hard to enhance their utility by reducing public religion (that part, at least, does seem rational).

harry eagar wrote: "We don't require the religionists to sacrifice to Darwin, even just to be sociable."

Well, we do, don't we? We insist that their children be taught a variety of secular subjects in school, no?

November 15, 2006 1:37 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

You prayer-mongers cannot simultaneously argue that praying is trivial (tho' no one appreciates Peter's efforts in that direction more than me) and that it is beneficial. Make up your minds.

I am not aware of any benefits, but while I agree mumbo-jumbo ought to be trivial, the words are not in the real world. Examples can be multiplied, but here are three, one from each of the three great abrahamic religions:

1. If you mumble certain words, that makes you Muslim, and if you decide later that was a mistake, Muslims still consider the words warrant chopping off your head.

2. Mumbled words and a few drops of water on a Jewish baby make him a Christion, justifying kidnapping him.

3. A fetching smile on a Jewish boy and a few words from the rabbi get the boy zaddik'd, also kidnapping.

It's gonna take an awful lot of warm, runny feelings inside of the believers to make me think the prayers have a net good effect.

It's the old question Orrin was afraid to answer: How many old ladies do you have to help across the street to make up for burning one at the stake.

November 15, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

So public prayer has benefit to the believer and doesn't seem to cost me anything, so that would be a net gain in utility if other secularists were like me.

It doesn't cost you anything to be turned into someone else's ventriloquist dummy? Does dignity and self respect enter into any of your utility calculations?

I don't mean to sound harsh, but I find your reactions quite bizarre. What do children learn when they are expected to recite words and oaths that they do not hold? They learn that they are not autonomous beings with free will who have any say or control over their own life. They learn to disregard concepts like truth in order to appease authority figures by mouthing lies. I think there's a huge net loss in utility, to say the least!

"We insist that their children be taught a variety of secular subjects in school, no?"

We (secular people) don't insist that, they insist that. The great majority of religious people are smart enough to know that their children need to understand many secular things, like math and how to read and write and history in order to function in the world. Only the most backwardly fundamentalist people, like the Taliban, force their children to read the Koran every day for eight hours in school to the exclusion of anything else.

November 15, 2006 3:33 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

...and don't tolerate being coerced into affirmations of creeds that we don't hold.

Don't you find it passing strange that the overwhelming majority of beievers can attend a service, ceremony or celebration of another faith (or even of national or civic pride) and simply bow their heads respectfully during a prayer without they or anyone else having the slightest suspicion that they are affirming the faith of the "prayor" or of anyone at all, but you, who believe in none of it, feel compromized and vulnerable? Duck, what exactly is bugging you?

Do you think if I stand gratefully and willingly for the playing of the American national anthem that I am betraying Canada? At weddings, do you object to joining in toasts for a bride you don't like and fear will torture your love-addled friend?

I assume you and Harry used to go ballistic when you heard Kate Smith sing "God Bless America". Frankly, you are both arguing like extremely fragile and insecure atheists. Bret has it right. He understands his rationalism and wears it with confidence and decency.

November 15, 2006 4:11 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck asks: "It doesn't cost you anything to be turned into someone else's ventriloquist dummy?"

Oh, I suppose my heart rate rises slightly in order to provide the energy to make my vocal cords vibrate, but other than that no. Obviously, I wouldn't put you statement quite that way.

duck asks: "Does dignity and self respect enter into any of your utility calculations?"

Sure, of course. For me, I don't feel undignified when speaking words with a group of people that mean little to me (but aren't offensive either) and I certainly don't lose any self-respect, so there is no negative utility for me. I understand that you find it undignified and generally horrific to do so, so yes, for you I understand that there is negative utility. From my perspective, you specifically choose to suffer that negative utility. It doesn't inherently exist (e.g. I don't suffer from it).

duck wrote: "I don't mean to sound harsh..."

Are you sure? :-)

duck wrote: "... but I find your reactions quite bizarre."

I figured that. :-)

duck asks: "What do children learn when they are expected to recite words and oaths that they do not hold?"

Apparently not diddley since there're an awful lot of people who recited such words as youngsters who are as non-religious as can be now (hmmmm, I think you qualify, for example). I recited some and was never religious, but maybe I'm a slow learner.

duck wrote: "They learn that they are not autonomous beings with free will who have any say or control over their own life."

I dunno. I feel pretty autonomous, but maybe I'm not. Maybe I am just a ventriloquist dummy for my yoga teacher (for example). But at least I'm a more flexible ventriloquist dummy.

duck wrote: "They learn to disregard concepts like truth in order to appease authority figures by mouthing lies."

This one I'm not getting. Which truth are they disregarding?

duck wrote: "I think there's a huge net loss in utility, to say the least!"

Yup, that's clear.

November 15, 2006 4:59 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry, those are words coupled with (extreme) actions. That would be the stick and stones couples with the words, which is not what I was talking about. Also, I wouldn't be joining in such ceremonies in any way, shape, or form. Most of the religious words in the public sphere aren't anywhere near so extreme.

November 15, 2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter you are talking about voluntary activities. Prior to the Supreme court decisions of the early 1960s, school prayer in many states was not voluntary, it was compulsory. That's what is bugging me, the fact that at one time in this country children were compelled to pray against their own and against their parents wishes. Do you have any opinion on that? Those were the wonderfully tolerant halcyon days of the 1950s that you were pining for in your earlier post.

So I guess you would be fine if your sons school decided that he would be required to engage in daily Muslim prayers, and that you were expected to provide a prayer blanket for his use. Or maybe your daughter is required to organize a witches coven and practice white magic spells.

I really don't care about "God Bless America" at the ballpark and I am not offended by prayers at a memorial service. My daughter sang religious themes songs in her school choir, this is not an issue. Like you say, noone would assume assent to religious beliefs by being present or participating in these activities.

But that's not what school prayer was about prior to the 1960's. It was about reinforcing the faith of already believing Christian students, and about inculcating religious beliefs in non-Christian children. This is what I'm arguing against. What is the big problem that you have with religious freedom? You can't have freedom and coercion.

November 15, 2006 5:46 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

This one I'm not getting. Which truth are they disregarding?

If you condition youngsters to spout rote texts without any need for them to understand them or to be convinced of their veracity, then by definition you've devalued truth for that person. I don't know how I can make it any plainer. If I was your teacher and I conditioned you to repeat "dogs are trees" nonstop for an hour every day, can you say that I've contributed to your regard for truth?

November 15, 2006 5:55 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Like you say, noone would assume assent to religious beliefs by being present or participating in these activities.'

Not true for Muslims, who believe that ritual is all. Say the words 'I submit,' and you take on all the -- very considerable -- liabilities of being a Muslim.

This is not theoretical. Do you not recall, just 3 or 4 months ago, the scandal in Pakistan in which an actor in a play repeated the formula for divorce v. a woman who was not merely another actor but his wife, and the mullahs declared that, inasmuch as the form of the words had been according to ritual, they were actually divorced.

No laughing matter, as they then could have been stoned to death for adultery.

The captive in Saudi Arabia who was forced to repeat the submission formula was also deemed to have become a Muslim and thus opened himself to the penalty for apostasy -- death.

In both cases, the penalties were deflected not by religious sensibleness but by secular outrage.

In many religions, there is no distinction between words and actions. Roman Catholicism, for example.

How this plays out in any particular instance depends upon the convolutions of the particular superstition.

But, setting all that aside, there is a difference between doing a thing because you want to and because some jerk forces you to.

One recalls Jane Fonda doing the tomahawak chop at the World Series.

If she had not, the secularist baseball fans would not have tarred and feathered her.

One cannot confidently say the same about anyone who says or refuses to say what some religious zealot want him to say or avoid saying.

Why is it so damned important for religionists to force people to repeat formulas?

I go to lots of religious rites. I certainly don't repeat the formulas. That would be impolite and hypocritical.

November 15, 2006 8:51 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Bret:

I really have trouble understanding how saying a prayer as a non-believer hurts you

Why do you confine that statement to areligionists?

The real problem is with those who do not believe at all in the deity under entreaty, but instead believe very strongly in another deity entirely.

It is very worth noting that most ACLU First Amendment cases are initiated by religionists, not dunnoists.

November 15, 2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

If you condition youngsters to spout rote texts without any need for them to understand them or to be convinced of their veracity, then by definition you've devalued truth for that person.

Duck, old friend, did you really intend to leave yourself so wide open? Let's take another look at that science curriculum. :-)

Anyway, if you are looking for me to say that I agree no one should be compelled by law to pray, you've got it. OK, that's settled. What other battles from yesteryear would you like to fight now? Hey, I know--how about the Inquisition? I'll start. I think it was a bad thing.

November 16, 2006 2:11 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Are prayers meaningless mumbles or aren't they? Mostly it depends on the mumbler - religion sticks with some people but not others. But no believer can seriously claim it's intended to be up to the mumbler.

I don't remember any priest concluding the recitation of The Creed by saying "But don't worry about any of that too much - it doesn't really mean anything."

Although that would have actually been appropriate for a good percentage of the congregation, especially the kids.


Bret:

harry eagar wrote: "We don't require the religionists to sacrifice to Darwin, even just to be sociable."

Well, we do, don't we? We insist that their children be taught a variety of secular subjects in school, no?


So religion is insisted upon by a group of religious parents, but maths, science, literature, french, spanish, geography, history and IT are only on the curriculum because the secular parents demand it?

November 16, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Anyway, if you are looking for me to say that I agree no one should be compelled by law to pray, you've got it.

Great! Now we just have to convince Bret.

I never thought it would be so hard to gain consensus on social changes that were obviously for the better for everyone. Social conservatives will rail against the secularization of society by the courts, but when you try to nail them on the facts, on whether compulsory religious observance is really justifiable, they'll sheepishly agree that it isn't. I don't get it. Its like the people who will curse modern medicine for whatever reason, but wouldn't for an instant consider doing without antibiotics or flu shots or pain relievers.

November 16, 2006 3:52 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

Well, I certainly remember thinking "Damn secularists!" before every French exam. As usual, it all went awry when we abandoned good, perfectly-servicable tradition.

I'll give you maths and languages, Brit, but what about compulsory Darwinism and sex education and the dressed up variations of the Gaia hypothesis in social studies? Are they not the imposing of popular materialist orthodoxies under the guise of "fact".

November 16, 2006 3:55 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Depends how they're taught, but surely nobody is claiming that teaching a religion (as opposed to Religious Education - where they learn about all the religions in an anthroplogical/historical way) is of the same order as sex education?

Re: Trivium - I couldn't agree more. We Juddians and post-Juddians may vary enormously in our aptitude for Grammar and Logic, but by Jove we'd have all nailed Rhetoric.

November 16, 2006 4:12 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

Sheepishly? That's pistols-at-dawn talk, buddy. I said no one should be forced to pray by law or even unavoidable social coercion. I did not say lone dissenters should be able to use an imperial judiciary to deep-six every effort at reasonable, respectful compromise (non-denominational prayer, moment of silence, excused from the class,etc.) and leave those who do wish to pray barred legally from so doing.

Not everybody approaches these kinds of issues through the prism of the U.S. Constitution with the inevitable take-no-prisoners court battles and winner-take-all results. And not all slopes are slippery.

November 16, 2006 4:59 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

duck wrote: "I don't mean to sound harsh..."

Are you sure? :-)


Yes. I'm sorry if my responses have been offensive. I'll try to smell some more flowers.

November 16, 2006 5:06 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

Your admittedly deft combination of exaggeration and religious porn is most unpersuasive. Don't tell me you don't understand the difference between reciting the Nicene Creed in Church and silently sharing a non-doctrinal moment of reverence for the Eternal with your community.

November 16, 2006 6:28 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

duck wrote: "Great! Now we just have to convince Bret."

No, not at all. I certainly prefer that there is no compulsory (required by law) prayer in school and public places. It's just not a very strong preference for me, that's all. My comments are more about the intensity of the passion you have for said preference. My ancestors are jewish and had to deal with plenty of religious persecution. Once they arrived in America, having their children occasionally being compelled to say some Christian prayer was chump change on the worry index. It wasn't great, but they dealt with it. Are we all happier now with no compulsory prayer? Yes, but it's icing on an already delicious cake.

November 16, 2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger David said...

I second Bret. I've known lots of Jews of my parents' generation who had to sing Christmas carols in public school. I've yet to hear one complain of the searing emotional scar. Most of them like the music; they all ignored the message.

November 16, 2006 9:08 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "I'm sorry if my responses have been offensive..."

I was just joking (thus the smiley face). Y'all are amazingly polite and non-offensive, especially given the anonymity of the comments medium.

November 16, 2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

David, Xmas carols aren't the issue.

I'd have put a stop to it if I'd known it was happening, but when my daughter was in high school drama, a fine group of Christians from First Assembly flooded the zone and, with their mothers looking on approvingly, harassed and humiliated a Buddhist boy with taunts that he was going to hell, until he left the program.

I'll admit to religious porn -- I don't write it, I'm just the reporter -- but not to exaggeration. You perhaps think I am using the strongest examples in my arsenal. I'm not. I've got worse.

November 16, 2006 9:23 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

David:

Although I have a Conservative Jewish colleague/friend who once several years ago kept me up late ranting about the time his kid came home with a picture of Santa Claus he had coloured in school. Try as I might to convince him he was missing the forest for the trees, not to mention seriously misapprehending the theological significance of Santa Claus, he was adamant his freedom of religion had been trampled on outrageously by the theocrats. I felt badly and slightly despairing about it all, but at the time I didn't understand the significance of his also being a declared committed libertarian. After spending the last few years around here, I think I have a greater insight into what his problem was. :-)

November 16, 2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: Our problem was convincing our kids that it's a mitzvah not to tell the little Christian kids that Santa doesn't exist. As far as I know, they never let it slip.

Harry: The First Amendment is just powerless in the face of Thespians for Christ.

November 16, 2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It wasn't a First Amendment issue, as the mothers were acting as mothers, not state agents.

It was just a typical day among the evangelicals.

I've got worse examples, including one I caught up on just yesterday from a friend who was driven crazy by First Assembly tactics. I mean that literally.

But I doubt you want to hear 'em.

November 16, 2006 11:46 PM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: If your stories are entertaining, go ahead and tell them. Just don't expect me to rethink this whole G-d thing just because some fruitcake acts badly.

November 18, 2006 7:53 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not 'some fruitcake,' the leader of the biggest Chrisian congregation in the county (and probably the state).

We're not talkin' outliers here.

November 19, 2006 10:37 AM  
Blogger David said...

Why do you think those terms are mutually exclusive? I think we've had plenty of evidence that the leaders of even major religious organizations can be fruitcakes.

November 19, 2006 2:10 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

OK, important, influential fruitcakes.

It is more significant if leaders misbehave than if followers do, for two reasons:

1. Presumably, the followers follow the leader because they approve of his behavior.

2. Even if they don't now, they bear watching.

I have been reading Kaplan's 'Balkan Ghosts.' Religion haunts the Balkans. It does not matter which one; if anything goes wrong, the people are encouraged to blame the Jews.

Possibly G-d disapproves, but there's no evidence of that.

People do desert pews, sometimes. Like Jim Bakker. But not often.

November 19, 2006 4:07 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

It isn't G-d that needs rethinking, but rather religion.

Which very often speaks, and acts, badly.

November 20, 2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

Religion is, of course, an entirely human endeavor.

November 23, 2006 8:04 AM  

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