After Magritte

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We sold our souls for $300.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Church and State

The greatest development in human freedom is this idea: The government derives legitimacy from the consent of the governed. This started with the Magna Charta and was truly realized in the Declaration of Independence. The next key principle is that only the state has the ability to compel. These two principles lead to individual freedom. Church and state must be kept separate because as soon as you bring religion into the mix, you lose the first principle. Now you have a competing legitimizer. Once religion gets a foothold in the state, it has the power to compel – and freedom is lost. This gives you Iran today or England in the 1600s, where anyone claiming some religious authority has power over everyone else. The freedoms we liberals hate so much cannot exist without a separation of church and state.

Separation of church and state is under attack in this country. This may be the single greatest threat to our freedoms. The worst president in 100 years was reelected in 2004 because of the support of the Christian Coalition – and they expect repayment. James Dobson has more say in who is on the Supreme Court than Arlen Spector. Evolution is under attack in schools and Abstinence is all we preach to prevent pregnancy and AIDS. Even access to birth control is under attack and South Dakota is trying to outlaw all abortions. And of course, the #1 issue in our country is . . . gay marriage.

So, when I read this, I kinda got a little pissed.

I fully recognize that After Magritte is not the best blog in the world. There are others that are better. In my defense, I will say juggling an actual job, 2 kids, a house to maintain is a lot of work. I don’t have that much time to blog. All that beer is not going to drink itself. This blog is half-assed at best. That said, it is time for a new feature: What crap is on the NY times op-ed page today that even I would be ashamed to publish.

Why, then, are the enlightened so conspicuously up in arms these
days, reiterating every possible argument against the existence of God? …The
most obvious answer is that the armies of disbelief have been provoked.
Articulate secularists may be merely reacting to the many recent incitements
from religious zealots at home and abroad, as fanatics and infidels have their
ways of keeping each other in business. A deeper and far more unsettling answer,
however, is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks
a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of
religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory
than real

I will give our author this, he almost got it. The most obvious answer is correct. As a member of the secular society, let me be the first to say that my anxiety is primarily based on the fears of crazy religious nutjobs jamming their religion down my throat. I am worried that our country is in an endless war in Iraq. I am worried that the man with the hand on the button sees himself as some holy Christian warrior trying to bring out the end of days. I am worried that my kids will not be taught evolution or sex-ed in schools. These things worry me. I am even slightly concerned about the approximately 900,000,000 Muslims who wake up in the morning thinking about how to kill me. Actually, I am more flattered by the last one. Add to that to an irrational fear of snakes and I really don’t have any room for fear of the Enlightenment’s illusory nature.

Oh and please don’t equate those who believe in evolution with those who shoot abortion doctors. We are really not 2 sides of the same coin. Mr. Shweder continues:

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the “dark ages,” finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe. As people opened their eyes, religion (equated with ignorance and superstition) gave way to science (equated with fact and reason). Parochialism and tribal allegiances gave way to ecumenism, cosmopolitanism and individualism. Top-down command systems gave way to the separation of church from state, of politics from science. The story provides a blueprint for how to remake and better the world in the image and interests of the West’s secular elites. Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion.
One of the things that really pisses me off about the religion apologists is the assumption that anything bad that happens in the world must stem from a lack of piety, all the while ignoring any possible bad thing that could come from religion or any good thing that is secular. Yeah. A lot of really crappy stuff happened in the 20th century. Like the Holocaust. That had nothing to do with religion. The Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda: that wasn’t tribal allegiances at all. And just about all the shitty things that happened in the 21st century were direct results of religion.

The disasters of the 20th century are worse than those of the 15th (which for some reason Mr. Shweder seems to long for) simply because technology has allowed us to kill a lot more people faster. The people of prior centuries were just as nasty – they just lacked the technology we have today. If they had nukes during the Crusades, we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

Our author says: "A shared conception of the soul, the sacred and transcendental values may be a prerequisite for any viable society". Why? What evidence does he have and does that evidence outweigh Darfur? One can easily argue the opposite. Religion actually allows us to be worse to each other. We can justify our evil a lot easier when we say that God made me do it. The idea of an afterlife makes it easier to cheapen this life. The 72 virgins is a great recruiting tactic for suicide bombers.

What the religion apologists continue to miss is that religion actively worked to restrain the science that keeps us from dying of things like the Plague. Organized religion actively encourages war. All the peace, love and understanding that may be in the texts does not come out in practice.

I don’t want to go back to the Dark Ages. I plan to kick the ass of anyone who wants to take us back. I like my freedom and not dying of the Plague, thank you.


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