Friday, August 3, 2007

BAT - A Third Swing

I posted a sequel to my original Blog Against Theocracy post, to better describe my view and to make good use of some of my writing from the comments section. This final post is again an edited formulation of some of my responses from that original discussion.

Concerning the marketplace of ideas, or the table of reasoned discussion and rational discourse where the comparison of different ideas occurs, here is an analogy that should shed light on my thinking. If two ideas about a subject are competing, one supported solely by religious faith, and the other not, it won't always be necessarily true that the non-religious idea should win. Suppose the subject is environmental responsibility, and the religious person believes that the Spirit Of The Earth would have us take care of the planet, while the non-religious person thinks we should pillage and consume simply because his mother says so. If we investigated both sets of reasoning, we may in the end find that both are irrational, but in such a case the religious person's reasoning will still come as superior to the non-religious person's, if only because it is more developed and actually results in empirical positive benefit to the world at large.

The bad news for both individuals would be if a third person showed up whose reasoning had its basis in empirical observations and claims backed by facts, without any commitment to unreasonable and untestable dogma or superstition. This third person's conclusions may work well with those of the devout Spirit Of The Earth follower, but anybody with a concern for beliefs being reflective of reality will of course see that the third person's reasoning is superior, and perhaps more importantly a better tool for convincing others to also protect the environment.

In my view, the situation isn't really reason vs. "non-reason" or something like that. It's that many views may show up at the table, all bearing reasons. Some of the reasoning will be good, some of it completely ridiculous, and shades in between. It is this comparison, this critical evaluation of the proffered reasoning, that civilization as we know it has been involved in, to varying degrees of success, for several thousand years.

So, if a hypothetical theocrat were to ask, "what is the difference between your thinking and reasoning, and mine?" ...Well, I might answer like so: my thinking and reasoning is based on empirical investigation of the facts, and a concern for the well-being and happiness of all people. So, if the hypothetical theocratic supporter is arguing with me over his belief that women should be marginalized and treated as lesser, or even as property, with his foundation for such being his blind adherence to his holy book....what will we find? Will it truly be a mystery how my thinking and reasoning differs from his? First, we'll find that even a skin-deep survey of science will support me while damaging him, while a more extensive investigation of reality will only further help my case while hindering his. Second, we'll find that it's almost absurdly obvious whose view and reasoning actually furthers the happiness and rights and freedom of all people.

The hypothetical theocrat might still continue to ask: "What’s the difference? Is it because I have a god and you don’t?" And they may even make a wild claim: "You have a god, and you serve it, promote it, and elevate it. Your god is ‘reason’."

But despite the questioning, the difference isn't in the god, and reason is not a god. Reason is not served ― it is used. Promotion and elevation of something does not a god make.

Almost everybody agrees that Christians would not want to be told how to live their life based on the faith-based precepts of a different religion. In practice, this obviously holds true. Christians don't even consider allowing other denominations or sects of Christianity to dictate to them how to live their life, let alone a whole other monotheism. But tell them the same thing ― that their faith has no business telling you what to do ― and some will loudly question why it is acceptable to tell them that their religious definition of right and wrong is invalid. But that's not what we're declaring invalid ― they can believe just about whatever they want. What is acceptable is telling a religious person that their spiritual beliefs are not valid means of defining right and wrong and forcing such faith-based beliefs on others. So, if a Christian (or any other religious person) wants to use their preferred holy book to tell them what is right and wrong about some specific moral issue, my personal opposition to theocracy and my support for SoC&S actually comes as defending that religious person's right to such belief. But it should also be obviously acceptable to disagree strongly with that same religious person when they move to force their holy book-based faith belief on others who do not share the same religious outlook.

So in the real world, if a Christian wants to use faith in their interpretation of the Bible to decide that drinking alcohol is sinful and wrong, they are free to. They are even free to not only believe such a thing, but to act on it, and thus refrain from drinking beer or wine. But what they cannot reasonably do is expect all others to be forced to act as if alcohol is sinful. First, others may understand the Bible differently (imagine that!), or perhaps certain others have a different holy book that is not understood to prohibit alcohol, or perhaps others do not make their decision about beer based on religious reasoning at all.

Lastly, the response I received on this point didn't actually deal with my main thrust. Namely, that Christians would not enjoy it if the dictates of a different religion told them how to live their life. It is confusing in the extreme that a person could agree with this, and then proceed to argue that they, as a Christian, should still be allowed to tell others, based solely on a faith that is not shared, how to live their life.

In my OP, I wrote that "…one of the great things about our country is that just because you have a religious belief about a certain subject, that doesn't mean that I have to believe it too." Why any reasonable person would object to this, I do not know. The response I received came in the form of three questions. 1) Doesn't my view force all religious people in the country to believe what I believe about the brain? 2) Am I calling for an abolishment of religious legislation, thus forcing others to believe as I do? 3) Even if others believe differently than I, won't they be "affected" or perhaps "oppressed" by my stance?

However, my answer to all three of these questions is: no.

First, people are free (within certain limits) to believe that they don't, or shouldn't, make decisions with the aid of their brain. But it would be entertaining to hear such a person try to explain how they believe such a thing, and the reasons for such belief, without making use of their reasoning mind.

Second, what I'm calling for is the abolition of religious bigotry and theocratic legislation. Religious people are of course still involved in the whole process of law and legislation, and if their faith inspires them to argue persuasively (and with good reasons) in favor of a new piece of legislation that helps people and does not of necessity revoke the rights and freedoms of others, that's great!

So, third, no, not everyone has to believe as I believe. To use an earlier example, a Christian is free to believe that beer is sinful, even though I believe otherwise. So long as I do not force them to drink, and they do not force me to abstain, neither one of us is compelled against our will to believe or act as the other does.

With these three things clearly in view, we of course find that there is no oppression. The position I outlined in my OP is an argument in direct support of the historic Foundations of our country, and is specifically designed to avoid oppression.

The objection was made that while my anti-theocratic stance didn't bear a "religious title," it somehow still managed to be "religious." It was claimed that if one is devoted to a view and seeks to uphold it, defend it, and live by it, then such a view is "religious." Of course, I don't think I can take this objection too seriously. Just because you label something "religious" doesn't make it so. Having a view that you defend and live by can be done without religion or religiosity. For example, I elevate Nintendo as my preferred brand of video game console, I do so to the exclusion of others (with the exception of my sinful love affair with Sega Dreamcast), my discourse about video games is such that I tell others of my preference and I seek to uphold my view that Nintendo is better,and my real-life decisions about what video games I play are greatly affected by my choice of allegiance to Nintendo. On top of that, there are thousands and thousands of people just like me. But I think in all seriousness we all know that such is not the makings of religion.

As to how a person might determine why religious reasons aren't valid while non-religious ones are, I say pick a topic. Say a person has religious reasons for opposing garden fertilizer. They are committed to their faith belief in garden fairies that exist invisibly beneath the dirt, and who if revered properly will bless the garden and grow healthy plants. Now imagine that you disagree with that person, and you make recourse to science, specifically the branch of biology called botany. Your empirical view of gardening is not religious, and here in reality land will actually result in testable garden success that will prove you correct, and the garden fairy view wrong. Is it surprising that we can clearly see which reasons work as valid? Should we be confused that the devout fairy gardener will find it impossible to get laws passed that outlaw garden fertilizer?

The situation seems to only get worse for the man of religiosity when he makes the additional claim that his reasons are based on a "holy book." Not only are his claims then completely subject to the wide-reaching scrutiny of literary criticism, history, and science, but it is also almost certain that the non-holy book reasons will be verifiable, based on reality, and pragmatically more effective. Take my above example about invisible fairies who live beneath the garden. Even if such gardening philosophy is based on a holy book that teaches all about the wonderful holiness of invisible garden fairies, we will almost certainly find that your non-religious preference for fertilizer and proper botanical practice wins out when both ideas are compared. Not only will you have better (and testable) reasons for your stance, but the reasoning you employ to make use of your reasons will be superior.

"Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use
of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, 'It is
a matter of faith, and above reason.'
" - John Locke

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