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Reading Jonathan Haidt as a “New Atheist” December 5, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
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A week ago I wrote a quick post about how I was reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, and quoted a bit from early on in the book.  I am nearly done the book (I have one chapter left), and although I liked much of the early book and think that some of what he thinks about the relationship between our moral instincts and subsequent rationalizations of them are worth reading, I must conclude that i am not on-board with Haidt’s approach to religion, especially his criticisms of the “New Atheists.”

In chapter 11, Religion is a Team Sport, Haidt tries to deconstruct the new atheist approach, following on his anti-worshiping of reason from earlier in the book, and says we need to address religion for what is is (a group selected set of community-building institutions) rather than what it is not (a set of beliefs, ideas, etc).  He thinks that our attention to beliefs as motivators for action is too simplistic, and points out that “belonging” has to be placed along with belief and action, in the matrix of religious behavior.

Well, yes of course it does!

I don’t need to get into the details of what is wrong with the book, at least in terms of the criticism of the new atheists, because that has already been done:

Sam Harris has some thoughts about Haidt’s treatment of morality, as well as how beliefs inform our actions.

PZ Myers has thoughts about Haidt’s relationship to the Templeton Foundation, and thus to accommodationism in general.

Als0, Helian has a good critique which points to another good critique from the New York Times by William Saletan.

I agree that there are parts of the book which are quite worth-while.  I did just get it from my local library, after all, and didn’t spend a cent to read it.  If you are interested in moral psychology, evolutionary psychology, and group selection (whether or not you agree with any of those research areas specifically), then I suggest reading at least the first several chapters.

But what was most telling was that Haidt kept on talking about the difference between what makes a group work well and what does not.  His conclusion is that religion makes groups work well, at least for members of the group.  Atheists who ask us to leave religion, as individuals or as a species, risk losing what Haidt sees as the glue that can hold us together.

Haidt is seemingly unfamiliar (due to lack of mention) with any new atheist thoughts past 2007 or so (the book was published in 2012).  Perhaps the problem is that he is unaware that many atheists have been working, especially in the last 2-3 years, on building up an atheist community.  No, we may not have anything sacred (not even science), but we are working on creating a sense of what it means to be skeptical, non-religious, and living in a world with potential for beauty and terrible atrocity.

Religion is not the only force for group-cohesion, even if it has the advantage of having sacred spaces, authority, and thus loyalty (what Haidt identifies as primarily conservative values).  I believe that care, a concern for fairness/ justice, and a sense of liberty (what Haidt identifies as what liberals tend to prioritize) are means to creating community as well.  We do not need to give up a concern for what is true (a value Haidt does not list, interestingly, especially because it is a high value for many new atheists, including myself) in order to create shared group identities.

Haidt, an atheist himself, is not connected to the atheist community.  Perhaps if he was, then his arguments would not be so poor.  Perhaps we should invite him to the party?

 

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Progress versus Process December 2, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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Politically, I tend to align myself with progressive thought.  I generally like the idea of progress; moving towards an ideological target.  But when I think more closely about the idea of progress as a concept, I think it lacks something important, and has some potential inherent dangers, when compared to the idea of a process.

One of the dangers of political ideologies is that very distracting idea of a target or set of social and political goals.  Because while those goals may be based upon clear thinking, good values, and hopefully even empirically sound philosophical bases, the fact is that circumstances change and we may not notice if we keep looking at the destination.

See, progress is teleological.  Process is methodological.

Teleology implies intention, design, and is associated with religious theology in many ways.  The presence of intent and purpose, when it come to theology especially, might seem safe because the designer is often believed to be perfect, or at least optimally knowledgeable and powerful.  But progress in the real world involves imperfect people, and so when we think about progressing towards some ideal utopia, or merely a better set of values and policies, we are almost certain to err.  And if we are attached to the destination too strongly, we may not even see those errors.

Instead, we should be focusing on the process by which we solve problems and understand the world.  Goals are nice, and often necessary to accomplish anything, but by focusing on the goal rather than the road we walk upon, we will lose sight of many things.

Many forms of religion, and religious thinking, suffer from this very problem.  The focus on Heaven (or Hell) for many people is a prime example of this.  Built into the worldview of many forms of Christianity, for example, are things like purpose, intent, and ultimate destinations for us in God’s plan.  And even within the Christian world people will criticize other believers for focusing too much on the goal, rather than what God wants us to do here.  By being focused on getting to Heaven (or avoiding Hell), many people are not doing many of the things here and now that they could, or should, be doing in this life.

And, of course, this leads to the common atheist criticism of religion; people’s focus on the afterlife, rather than this real life (the only one we have), leads people to miss all that we really have.  But this mistake is prevalent throughout all of human groups, including some atheists.  It’s one of the many imperfections with how our brains evolved, and I think we can all benefit from an awareness about what methods we use, rather than an ideological goal.

That’s what skepticism and science are good for.  Because skepticism and science are not goals; they are methods.  Granted, it’s hard to avoid looking at the potential horizon in our pursuit of the truth, but we need to make sure that how we think about those goals in the here and now, so we don’t get caught up in the dream rather than the reality.

Focusing on our process, our method, will make sure that we are on the right road, because all-too-often people find that the road they are one don’t lead anywhere; that the location in the horizon was a mirage, and the road (which they were not looking at) just goes in circles, or merely stops one day, nowhere near their illusory destination.

And there are many images of potential futures with science as our road (I’m looking at you, transhumanists).  But we cannot live in the hope that those futures will occur.  We can be inspired by them, but we have to live where we are.  I’ve known Christians who miss too much of life because they are awaiting Heaven, and I have known atheists who let life pass by because they desire their cybernetic bodies or their mind to be uploaded into a different kind of immortality.

In my opinion, we all would be better off by making sure that the thinking we are doing today is connected to real goals and real life, otherwise we may be letting precious time slip by in the name of illusory goals.  I want my goals to be attached to a skeptical worldview, utilized to make this life better for us and our descendants.

All of my distant goals and ideals are subject to change and revision because I keep my attention to what is going on around me, and thus my goals sometimes change.

 

Pwning Bill O’Reilly’s Christian Philosophy November 29, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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This hit the interwebs today

Now, this is not the first time Bill O’Reilly and Dave Silverman have met up to create fireworks.  Remember the tides thing?  I do not know how much of Bill O’Reilly’s on-air personality is an act, or if he really believes what he says in segments such as these, but the things he says are believed by many people, perhaps (in some cases) because Bill O’Reilly says them.

So, O’Reilly claims that Christianity is not a religion, but is a philosophy instead.  This is no different than the dozens of times I have heard Christians claim that their relationship with Jesus/God is not a religion, because religion is man-man and this is the truth.

Let’s start by granting that mere philosophical symbols and ideas are fair to display in government space.  Much of what the Framers of the Constitution were doing, after all, is political and moral philosophy.  Go to the Jefferson memorial and read the walls; that’s  philosophy.  Seeing images and carvings of Plato, Aristotle, or even religious and historically significant characters (such as Moses or Hammurabi) on government buildings is commonplace, because these figures play a part in our culture’s history—but so does religion, right? So what’s the difference?

A Buddhist Christmas?

OK, so let’s consider a non-Christian ideology such as Buddhism, which is fundamentally philosophical in many respects but also has many of the characteristics of a religion, especially where it is mythologized and supernatural components are included.  Would an image of the Buddha, with some quotes from his attributed sayings, be fair game on government property? More relevant here, would Bill O’Reilly have an issue with such displays?

I do not knows what O’Reilly would think here, but my guess is he would be OK with it so long as it does not get in the way of his traditions.  So long as Buddhists were not trying to usurp his holiday traditions, I don’t think he’d care.  But should secular-minded people care? Should I care?

This is tricky, because the distinction between philosophy and religion is thin in many traditions, Buddhism included.  I would say that insofar as any message on government property is not giving privileged or unequal support for any of the mythological, ritualistic, and supernatural aspects of any philosophy or religion, then there is no problem from a secularist’s point of view.  That is, so long as Buddhisms presence in such spaces leans towards its philosophical roots, and not its specifically religious traditions, then I don’t think there is an issue.

But we’ll worry about that when Buddhists start becoming anything near a majority.  So, probably never.

Unlike Buddhism, however, Christianity is clearly a religion.  Yes, it contains elements of philosophy, but I am not sure any religious traditions do not include philosophical ideas.  But the essential component to the overwhelming majority of Christian theologies is the relationship between humankind and “God.”  Christianity is not a mere collection of rational concepts or methods about finding what is true, beautiful, or wise, it is a set of metaphysical claims about the nature of the universe which has many traditional rituals, stories, and moral teachings.

The major distinction here is the presence of theology.  Theology is a type of philosophy–the religious kind–and so if a tradition has a theology it is clearly a religion.

To claim that Christianity is a philosophy is to amputate a significant portion of what it does for believers.  Where a thinker such as Plato used logic and dialogue to make propositions and criticisms about ideas, Christianity does this but it does so much more.  To imply that Jesus was just a philosopher is to say he was just a man with mere ideas about the world.  This view removes the divine messages including the metaphysical significance of the (supposed) sacrifice and makes concepts such as eternal life, eternal punishment, or even ultimate meaning impotent.

Wait…does that mean that this segment of his show reveals that Bill O’Reilly does not believe all of the mythological and metaphysical components of Christianity? Does that make O’Reilly some sort of humanist?  Because if he does not think that Christianity is not religious (thus has nothing to do with supernatural claims) then why all the god-talk?

Again, I think this claim that Christianity is a philosophy is part of a set of cultural/apologetic moves to distinguish Christianity from mere religion.  It usually takes the form of “I have a relationship with Jesus/God, and religion is a man-made lie!” In this case, O’Reilly seems to be doing something similar.  “Christianity,” he might say, “is not a man-made mere religion, it is the true philosophy given to us by god.”  Well, if so, Papa Bear, then that makes it a religion.

I don’t think Bill O’Reilly has thought this through, so let’s consider him appropriately pwned.

Abolishing Resolution 58-10 (Winter displays in West Chester, PA) November 28, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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Commissioner Terence Farrell

*edit*

There is a public meeting in West Chester tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM where people will be able to speak on behalf of abolishing Resolution 58-10.  Here’s the information:

313 W. Market St.
West Chester, 19380

6th floor

Margaret Downey has just sent out a request for help concerning the issue of displays, including the Tree of Knowledge, at the West Chester courthouse.  Here is her request:

We have one and a half days to flood the office of Commissioner Terence Farrell with messages asking him to abolish Resolution 58-10. He is voting on Thursday afternoon so we need people to immediately request that he allow other displays on the grounds of the Chester County Courthouse. We want the Commissioners to give us back our Free Speech Zone.

Here is the contact information for Commissioner Farrell who is the swing vote. Please contact Farrell’s office — no matter where you live. Say that if a Tree of Knowledge display was allowed back on the grounds, you would travel to West Chester to see it. This will bring money into the community and proves that the Commissioners understand the diversity of the community! Get passionate about your rights and freedom of expression. Please act now.

Commissioner Terence Farrell
313 West Market Street
Suite 6202
West Chester, PA  19380
610.344.6100
610.344.5995 (fax)
tfarrell@chesco.org

Carol Everhart Roper has an article up about this as well, which also links to  the petition (which is now closed).  Still, we have an opportunity to change some minds, if we act now.

Jonathon Haidt on preferences and morality November 28, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion.
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Saying ” because I don’t want to” is a perfectly acceptable justification for one’s subjective preferences.  Yet moral judgments are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong.  I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you’re doing.  I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is our moral reasoning.  We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

This is from page 44 of Jonathon Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind which I am currently reading.

This idea is central to how I have been thinking about morality in recent years, at least in conjunction to ideas very much like those in Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.  I take it as axiomatic that preferences exist as the basis for much of our opinions, whether they be about politics, sex, religion, etc.  I realize that our values are not chosen, but are the result of fundamental emotional/pre-conscious processes which we don’t have immediate or easy access to.

But when it comes to things like public policy, especially when it comes to things like sexual orientation, I recognize that there is a significant burden on those who seek to limit personal freedoms which derive from our fundamental preferences and desires.  Religion is a devastating vehicle for such preferences—preserving and sanctifying them—but it is but one example of the great-grandparent of all vehicles for such things; culture.  Culture is not good or bad, per se, but it carries traditions and concepts which we put there, often without knowing why.  Culture is the storage space for all of our un-chosen fears, hopes, and everything in between.

It may be one of the great ironies of the human condition that we have to be willing to reject the specific preferences that we have for the sake of personal rights of others.  I say it’s ironic, because those same sets of preferences are the bases by which we rationalize morality at all; our personal preferences are the bases for enlightened self-interest, the golden rule, etc.  If we didn’t share the universal sets of personal preferences, then morality would not be relevant because we would feel no compulsion towards any particular action, let alone compassion.  It is because we care about our own preferences that we can, and feel compelled to, care about the preferences of others.

I cannot change, and did not choose, that I am sexually attracted to women rather than men (overwhelmingly, anyway), any more than another person cannot change that they are attracted to men, all genders, etc.  Thus, the same desires I  have to create various levels of intimacy and commitment with women are analogous to the desires that gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and even sapiosexual people have for the subjects of their desires.  My preferences are mine, and their preferences are theirs.  When put next to each other and looked at inter-subjectively,  no subjective preferences have a privileged status and all must be given equal initial weight (my like of John Rawls will be apparent here).  Thus, gay marriage is as much a right as any other form of marriage between consenting adults, because my preference for women is no more inter-subjectively valid than a preference for men and so forth.

Cultural tradition (specifically religion), the storage space for those bigoted fears, disgusts, and shames concerning homosexuality, are not sufficient reasons to create discriminatory policies against some forms of those desires for intimacy and commitment.

We have our preferences, but those preferences cannot inform, on their own, how we create policies that affect other people, at least in cases where no non-consenting victim exists.  And we have to keep in mind that as we dig into our minds (in the sense of Nietzsche’s concept of being archaeologists of the soul), we may find that preferences can change, and that we may grow new ones as we grow and learn.  Because while we may not choose our preferences, we can at least expose our mind to new ways of seeing issues which may alter the way our unconscious mind prefers to react.

Pay attention to your immediate and unconscious reactions.  Be mindful of feelings of disgust, shame, and fear in the site of things which we cannot find reasons to feel disgusted, shameful, or fearful of.  Sometimes interesting facts emerge while probing our preferences.  And sometimes our preferences, and thus our values, are actually just wrong and will need to be replaced, if that’s possible.

For the sake of our species I hope that values can be replaced.  But if not, I hope that we can at least convince people who have those damaging preferences that they should accept that their preferences will not become laws to govern all.

 

 

The Culture Wars will continue November 8, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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So, Obama won pretty big the other day, and overall the Democrats had their day of victory.  Now, in my opinion the Democratic party is not very liberal, but they are certainly the better option of the two major parties.  I like Obama, think he has been a fairly good president, and realize that having a truly progressive president is not a reality in today’s cultural climate.

Is Florida really still counting?

We live in a culture which is largely conservative and pragmatic.  Even many of the liberal friends and acquaintances I have are pretty moderate, much like Obama is.  And of course there are some radically-minded people I know, who argue for socialism, communism, etc, but I only sometimes agree with them.  I think our culture needs some radical change, but that change does not have to be political in nature.  That is, we don’t have to become a socialist nation, but we need to be more aware aspects of history, philosophy, and psychology which most people are almost completely ignorant of.

What do we need? Well, to name a few things I think are important, I’ll list skepticism first.  Skepticism is the methodology which we should be using to determine the truth of some claim.  We need science, critical thinking, and a willingness to listen to perspectives from outside your own to grow beyond our narrow views.  That is, we need to be aware of things like privilege, biases (whether cognitive or ideological), and tribalism.  We need to educate ourselves in pragmatic ways as well as in academic or philosophical ways.  Mere pragmatism is not sufficient to offer us a means towards improving our culture, as it takes the most efficient and traditional routes, rather than the best routes.  We need our pragmatism tempered by skeptical inquiry into the harms and benefits of that pragmatism.

But how can we do this in the context of such comments as this, from a comment from someone named ‘Doc’ over at a post called “Dresden in DC“:

Being the opportunist that I am, I started the night at a Romney party – because I hoped he would win. But when it became apparent he wouldn’t, I headed over to an Obama party that I knew of, met a sweet young thing who was happy to have turned 18 early enough to vote in this election. I took her home so that I could add to her night of firsts…

I learned long ago – hope for the best, but always take advantage of the situation. So I’ll continue to take advantage of the situation which is this train-wreck.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve moved more and more of my assets overseas – taking advantage of every tax loop-hole this administration created to be sure I paid zero in the US due to “losses” and “expenses” – of course all of my real profits were “elsewhere”… I’ve done quite well, although in the US I’ve been losing money left and right… I will continue this, but now I think I’ll leave the US at some point for good.

It is no longer “my country” since I believe in hard-work, opportunity, and succeeding by your own effort – rather than looting others. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take advantage of the stupidity of this administration (Government) – so if I can get guarantees that I can go bank-rupt on to hurry the inevitable destruction along, I will – especially if it is beneficial to me. :) Just like the young lady last night, whom I’ll be seeing this coming weekend to continue enjoying what she can “give me”…

Ugh, that poor woman….

This guy is my enemy? This is going to be easy….

Granted, this is just one comment from a conservative blog, and it is certainly non-representative of conservative ideas, but it’s also a fairly common worldview which stands in the way of progress.  And it’s not going anywhere soon, so the culture wars will continue.

The post itself, from which that comment was quoted, was not much better:

The Obama economy, poised to hit the young in urban population centers very hard, might be their Dresden. Make it rain. . .fire.

How lovely.  There is a real cultural war out there in American culture (also elsewhere, I know), and those who side with this guy are my enemies.

But there is reason to believe that the future will be an improvement.  Younger people lean towards the liberal as well as non-religious end of things, the last election brought in gay marriage, legalization of marijuana (not my thing, really, but it really should be legal), and Arizona has a bisexual atheist representative!  (Too bad about Pete Stark though…).

So, yes, we have a lot of work to do yet.  But in the free marketplace of ideas, skepticism reigns and progressive social policy wins.  I am not afraid of going toe-to-toe with such people as hiddenleaves, pictured above, or his misogynistic cronies.

Conservative Butthurt November 7, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
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I just made the mistake of perusing a few wordpress blogs which were tagged with politics.  There were more than a few who were lamenting the death of America, the loss of freedom, and the inevitable decline of our civilization in general.  We liberal, godless, perverts are going to ruin everything! Oh wait, I mean we are going to help and make it better, just not for them.

I know I am partisan here, but I cannot comprehend how stupid conservatives can be.  Not all conservatives are stupid, obviously, but I cannot comprehend how people who lived through the last several years have these absurd views (you know, the kind I parodied 2 days ago) about how socialist and terrible Obama is.  The fact is that he’s a moderate, a conservative Democrat, who takes pragmatic approaches to problems.  Yes, he does support some idealistic things which I agree with, like gay marriage, but he’s really pretty moderate and takes evidence-based approaches to lots of issues.  You know, the opposite of how the Republican Party has operated in recent decades.

I am hopeful that the conservatives whose butts are hurting right now, lamenting their slow but sure loss of socio-political control (often mixed with racism, misogyny, and many other effects of privilege), will become less and less prevalent in our culture in the next couple of decades.  I’m hoping that the efforts of skeptics and other forces for progress will have a positive affect on our social, cultural, and political world.  I am a bit skeptical, cynical even, that it will happen without lots of death-throws from the right, but it must happen if we are to survive and create a culture worthy of wanting to defend.

So, you Tea Partying, neo-con, far right theocracy/patriarchy toting morons out there, get over it and grow up.  Your privilege has been showing )except for to yourself), and you need to get out of your mental cave.  Your god is an illusion, your patriarchy is divisive and harmful, your misogyny hateful, and your traditions are often absurd and destructive.

I’ll be as clear as I can; you are on the losing side of history, and are hurting the world around you, including yourself.

Where in the world is Shaun McGonigal this evening? September 28, 2012

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Seeing Herb Silverman speak in Philadelphia, of course!

Herb Silverman

Herb has a new book out called Candidate Without a Prayer, and he will be speaking about it this evening in Philadelphia at the Ethical Humanist Society at Rittenhouse Square at 7:00,  as well as at the PA atheist conference this weekend in Harrisburg.

Since I am unable to make the conference this weekend, I wanted to at least get a chance to partake in some of the weekend fun by hopping on PATCO and strolling over to Rittenhouse Square (a place I like to sit and read anyway) and catch Herb Silverman speak with some like-minded people.

If you are in the Philadelphia area this evening and want to stop in as well, then I may see you.

If you don’t live in the area or you have other plans (what else could you be doing on a Friday evening?), then you could at least check out the new book, about his life, including an unsuccessful run for office in South Carolina.  Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

In this deeply revealing and engaging autobiography, Herb Silverman tells his iconoclastic life story. He takes the reader from his childhood as an Orthodox Jew in Philadelphia, where he stopped fasting on Yom Kippur to test God’s existence, to his adult life in the heart of the Bible Belt, where he became a legendary figure within America’s secular activist community and remains one of its most beloved leaders. Never one to shy from controversy, Silverman relates many of his high-profile battles with the Religious Right, including his decision to run for governor of South Carolina to challenge the state’s constitutional provision that prohibited atheists from holding public office. Candidate Without a Prayer offers an intimate portrait of a central player in today’s increasingly heated culture wars. It will be sure to charm both believers and nonbelievers alike, and will lead all those who care about the separation of church and state to give thanks.

I hope to see some of my atheist friends tonight, and I hope that everyone enjoys their weekend!

Provisionality, Offense, and Conviction September 27, 2012

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I was just reading a short post by Tristan D. Vick about the difference between beliefs and assumptions, and it got me thinking about conviction and offense.

Last week, Ginny and I were talking about offense.  I’m not easily offended, and we were talking about why that is.  Part of the reason, I concluded, is that I don’t have many things I find to be sacred; I don’t have ideas which are beyond criticism, unavailable for investigation, or held with great conviction.  I am bereft of sacred cows to tip over, or something.

My beliefs, accepted facts, and interpretations—in short my worldview—is tentative and provisional, just as Tristan says about his beliefs.  Thus, it’s hard to find ways to offend me because it would imply that some harm is being done to me to challenge or question something I believe.  Since I have already questioned my beliefs (ideally, anyway) on my own, someone else challenging them is redundant and not harmful.  Thus and form of poking fun, mocking, or calling my ideas stupid or silly in itself cannot offend me.  I can be annoyed by poor attempts at criticism, but I cannot be offended by things which are not held with conviction.

So when I see people in the streets of Benghazi, Egypt, or elsewhere protesting the insult to their religion, I have trouble sympathizing with the offense they take.  I can’t sympathize with having a sacred belief which cannot be mocked, questioned, or even illustrated.  I find the idea that offense is taken by such mild acts as making a shitty video, drawing a picture of some guy who is believed to be a prophet, or simply saying that a set of beliefs is silly or unjustified as, well, offensive.

That is, if there is anything sacred to me, it is the freedom of expression, thought, and therefore of criticism.  My ideal that ideas are subject to analysis and discussion is an idea which I don’t think I could be convinced out of.  I am convicted to the idea of freedom of expression, and so the only way to offend me would be to protest such freedoms based on an idea or set of ideas.

And for someone to point of an inconsistency here; to say that I should hold the ideal of freedom of expression provisionally, seems to commit the same error as those who try to criticize what is sometimes called scientism, but which I think is better thought of as consistency in application of skepticism.  That is, there must be some ground upon which we found other ideas and conclusions.  For example, if we don’t accept that our senses are capable of giving us reliable (although not infallible) information, we cannot claim certainty about anything.  If we don’t have some methodological basis for testing ideas (such as skepticism/empiricism), then we cannot test the veracity of hypotheses with any reliability.  If we do not allow free expression free reign to all subjects, then we have no real (legal) freedom to believe what we want, because it becomes to easy to allow bias to inform which ideas are given privilege.

But most importantly, the only means to question the idea of free expression is with free expression.  It is a self-founding idea, or a meta-value.

One of my favorite shirts

Finding offense in criticism, whether of ideas you hold or which are held by others, is a sign of placing value on the wrong thing.  There is no good reason to accommodate sets of ideas over the ability to question those ideas.  The meta-value of our world, our species, and of all sentient beings should be the freedom of expression of all ideas.  Privileging a set of ideas, even if those ideas are right, is absurd.  True ideas will survive the light of criticism, and do not need sanctions to survive.  The truth, as Kosh once said, points to itself.

I have no fear of my ideas being questioned, mocked, etc.  If they are good ideas, they will survive.  If they are bad ideas, they will be replaced by argumentation whether in the form of polite discussion or mockery.  The question I have for people who are easily offended, for their own sake or the sake of others, is where your values are?  You can be sympathetic with the hurt feelings people have about having their ideas mocked, but at the end of the day if their ideas cannot survive that mockery, or even polite questioning, then perhaps that sympathy needs to be understood to be about their feelings, not their ideas.

There is a point when we have to take responsibility for our ideas, rather than coddle them.  Ideas are not people, and they cannot be injured.  Ideas are either good (justified) or not (unjustified).  And if you are hurt because your ideas are mocked, then you are either protecting an unjustified idea or one that does not need protection.

Just like gods (if they are to exist), ideas cannot be harmed by our criticism,  mockery, or polite disagreement.  There is no reason to protect such ideas or beings, except to protect the fact that they are bad ideas and free expression might expose such a weakness.

Oh!  That explains it now, doesn’t it?

 

The Secular Coalition gets a new executive director, and (I think) gets it right May 3, 2012

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I have been a fan of the past executive directors of the SCA.  Lori Lipman Brown and Sean Faircloth are both smart, friendly, fun-loving people who I enjoyed getting to know.  When Sean left the position to be with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, there was the hanging question of who would be chosen to succeed him.

And today we have an answer from Hemant Mehta’s blog.  The choice is a former Republican lobbyist named Edwina Rogers.  I have never heard of her until today, but let me tell you, based on what I read from Hemant’s interview, why I think that the choice is a good one.

First, her answers to Hemant’s questions are encouraging.  She’s a nontheist (her preferred term), secularist, and she seems to be aware of the issues which the SCA is designed to confront.  In short, she’s one of us.

Second, the fact that she is a she is a plus in the sense that we do have some issues with gender inequality in the larger community of reason.  Not that hiring a man would have been a mistake, but this is an added bonus from an equality point of view. 

Third, she has inroads to Republicans.  This, I think, is the most important part.  For some time there has been an idea that there is a divide in our “culture wars” which divide along the lines of Democrat/liberal/secularist versus Republican/conservative/theocrat.  This divide is way too simplistic, and as Edwina Rogers states, its not true in the majority of cases.

Secularism is not a uniquely liberal value or cause.  Yes, there are many conservative voices who declare their opposition to the liberal and secularist agendas, but even those conservatives have much to gain, and maintain, in a secular government.  With Edwina speaking for us, perhaps some of those voices will be forced to allow their connected ears to get some exercise.  Seculaism has much to offer conservatives, especially the religious ones.

Yes, I have stark political and philosophical differences with conservative people (some who are family members) who view me as some crazed, brainwashed, confused elitist who has been fed the liberal lie of separation of church and state.  Perhaps Edwina’s voice can carry a little more weight with such people (perhaps not, in many), ot at least be able to frame them in ways those people will understand.

And there may in fact be a majority of conservative contituents who hold similar views about us elitist progressive secularists, but there are paths towards developing political alliances with secular conservatives who hold, or at least are near, levers of power and authority.

I would prefer to see America become more progressive as a whole.  I would like to see the Democratic party become truly progressive, fully secular, and deal with real social inequalities such as those brought up by the Occupy movement.  I would like to see the Republican party return to leaders such as Barry Goldwater, rather than the theocracy-downed idiocy that so often sways Republican constituents and legislation.

I would like to see real, substantive, argument about policy between people who intelligently disagree, rather than be distracted by Biblical proclamations and religiously-based anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-science ideologies which end up doing damage to the nation we all live in.  There is much to love about America, but sometimes those attributes become smudged with too much mud from religious contamination.

Theocratic tendencies in politics harm us all in ways which we often don’t even realize, unless we are paying close attention.  Having someone familiar with conservative lobbying circles assisting in our efforts to support secularism in America will be a boon for us all–liberal, conservative, etc–long-term.

I think that the SCA made a smart move in choosing Edwina Rogers.  Let’s see if I’m right.  In the mean time, let’s all welcome Edwina to her new position.