Archive for the ‘Tolerance’ Category

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming, 1919

The most productive environment is that where employees are valued and treated with respect and dignity and where there is no unethical behaviour. Ethical behaviour encompasses the concepts of honesty, integrity, probity, diligence, fairness, trust, respect and consistency. It includes avoiding conflicts whenever possible, and not making improper use of an individual’s position or of someone else’s work without proper acknowledgement. Nobody should be forced to listen to bad language or insults or be belittled in front of others in any way.

Equal Opportunities at CERN: Respect and Dignity in the Workplace

I had an interesting conversation with a friend, recently, sparked by Rod Dreher’s post about a horribly objectivist young person in which the topic of respect came up — we were mostly in agreement, but she cringed at the use of terms such as respect and honor, finding them hijacked by authoritarian groups and prefering terms like consideration. The double-meaning of such words, especially in traditional cultures, certainly does not help (hands up, those native English speakers among you, who honestly does not free-associate the word honor with the word killing). But as the second quote indicates, the word respect still has its more neutral, relational meaning… and it’s a disturbing trend when people shirk from using it and letting reactionary groups own that space.

In the larger scheme of things, Western society as a whole seems to be trapped in the same dilemma as that facing the grid-locked, partisan US politics. On one side, the fundamentalist religionists denouncing the depravity of modern culture, the collapse of traditional authority, etc. — despite their own rhetoric, hypocritically showing no respect for the dignity and humanity of the other side. On the other, the fundamentalist atheism of Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and their ilk. Trapped in the middle are the moderates, whether religious or agnostic/atheistic (I experienced this first-hand — an Anglican priest in Jakarta (very low-church, he shows complete disrespect for the Anglican patrimony w.r.t. liturgy — managed to diss both agnostics like de Botton and adherents of other religions, in one sermon. Yes, I explicitly wrote sermon instead of homily). I’m not singling out Westerners here; in many other parts of the world atheists can’t even come out.

It’s important not to adopt a false equivalence — when it comes to politics and religion, the responsibility for the increased divide is not shared equally by both sides. Respected political scientists showed that Republicans are the problem in US politics (even traditionalist conservatives like Rod Dreher find many problems with the party, although culture war issues prevent many of them from ever contemplating voting for the other side, thus perpetuating the gridlock). When it comes to religious attitudes, likewise, it seems that there are relatively few really outspoken atheists on one side, outnumbered by the many outspoken Prosperity Gospel evangelical televangelists, pastors, and their followers. As a liberal Anglo-Catholic, I’d say this definitely for the record: the so-called Prosperity Gospel is immoral, un-Christian, and even the most overbearing neo-atheists such as Dawkins are more morally upright than the hypocritical, self-serving, greedy and manipulative lifestyles of those who use God and fellow brethrens to make a quick buck.

The only way to get out of this impasse is for the moderates on both sides of the divide to reach out to one another — and that requires having a shared language, and respectful understanding of where the other side is coming from. Secular liberals in the West would do well to acknowledge and remember the Christian origin of their form of liberalism — or even their practice of atheism — to quote Andre Comte-Sponville:

This is why I sometimes like to describe myself as a faithful atheist. I am an atheist, since I believe neither in God nor in any supernatural power, and yet I am faithful, since I acknowledge my place within a specific history, tradition and community, namely the Greco-Judeo-Christian values of the Western world.

Andre Comte-Sponville, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, page 30.

Likewise, strong majorities of all but Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe theirs is the exclusive path to salvation — and it’d certainly improve things if some religious leaders would start leading from the front rather than holding their flocks back. As an OJN affiliate, I remain cautiously optimistic about the future — but there’s certainly a lot of work ahead of us

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love


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Many whom God has the Church does not have; and many whom the Church has, God does not have
— St. Augustine, paraphrased by Karl Rahner

(h/t: The Very Rev Samuel T. Lloyd III, Washington National Cathedral; the sermon, on inclusivity, touches some of the same points as an earlier sermon by the Orthodox Very Rev. Archimandrite Ambrose Bitziadis-Bowers)

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In the latest Point of Inquiry podcast episode, regular host Chris Mooney, the science journalist, is interviewed by Ronald A. Lindsey, a bioethicist, lawyer and CEO of POI’s parent organization Center for Inquiry.

Chris is his usual well-balanced self, but Lindsey, whether he’s just being a devil’s advocate or, as seems more likely, actually believe in strong neo-atheism, displays a rather… disconcerting attitude. He reminds me of a friend’s observation that some Mensans have a hard time accepting that the average person is less rational than them (which itself is a flaw on their rationality — insisting that everyone else sees thing the way one does, rather than more dispassionately trying to understand belief formation) — first by assuming that any non-confrontational dialogue between religion and science is a subtle attack on science itself (and assuming that organizations such as the Templeton Foundation are immutable and thus their past flaws are proof of a continuing sinister intent), then by, incredulously, asking if, indeed, getting religious believers to accept scientific findings has to involve an appeal to emotion as well as to reason, whether atheist scientists should not *shame* religious people into abandoning their beliefs!

With the display of hubris, lack of empathy, and misunderstanding of basic psychology on offer, neo-atheists like Lindsey (and Richard Dawkins) are really doing themselves and science a disservice — perpetuating a distrust between atheists and religious people, and making it harder to engage and change the mind of people on important, time-critical issue such as climate change. Because to them, irrationally, nothing is as important as first wiping off religious belief from existence. Which begs the question — why the irrational hatred?

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From Howard Friedman’s Religious Clause blog:

In a major policy shift, the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday unanimously adopted a Resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief (full text) which omits any reference to the concept of “defamation of religion” and instead focuses on the individual’s right to freedom of belief.  Reuters and the Washington Post both quote the U.S.-based Human Rights First campaign that called the resolution “a huge achievement because…it focuses on the protection of individuals rather than religions.” For many years, the Organization of the Islamic Conference had pressed to create a concept of “defamation of religion” that has been widely criticized in the United States and by a number of other Western countries. (See prior posting.) Muslim countries set aside that 12-year campaign and joined in approving yesterday’s resolution.

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From the NYT’s The Medium blog, as published by NYT Magazine:
Hammering away at an ideology, substituting stridency for contemplation, pummeling its enemies in absentia: ScienceBlogs has become Fox News for the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd. Though Myers and other science bloggers boast that they can be jerky in the service of anti-charlatanism, that’s not what’s bothersome about them. What’s bothersome is that the site is misleading. It’s not science by scientists, not even remotely; it’s science blogging by science bloggers. And science blogging, apparently, is a form of redundant and effortfully incendiary rhetoric that draws bad-faith moral authority from the word “science” and from occasional invocations of “peer-reviewed” thises and thats.

The complement of trying to correct misperception of science by the faithful is to make sure that scientists, likewise, do not gratuitously malign religion and other fields that fall outside their domain (beyond calling these out when they try to cloak themselves in pseudo-scientific garb).

For that reason, your editor has never been a fan of PZ Myers; having to read the occasional religious-bashing in Bad Astronomy is self-flagellating enough.

As an aside, I put scientism in quotation marks because I’m not entirely satisfied with the term. Skepdic defines it as such:

In the weak sense, scientism is the view that the methods of the natural sciences should be applied to any subject matter. This view is summed up nicely by Michael Shermer:

Scientism is a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science (Shermer 2002).

And I’m perfectly fine with people embracing a different philosophy of life than myself — I am, after all, a scientist myself, and an empiricist in most aspects. Being a follower of scientism as thus defined, however, surely does not necessitate having a strong allergic reaction to any expression of religiosity, just as being religious does not require rejecting empiricism out of hand?

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Religious freedom for minorities is a complicated matter. After all, we still have Muslim-bashing in the States, anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, etc. But the myth of religious tolerance in moderate Muslim-majority countries (e.g. Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia), periodically comes into conflict with hard fact on the ground.

Latest case in point, from Indonesia Matters, about the recent spate of anti-church-building demonstrations in Bekasi:

The clerics said that if we didn’t sign (a petition against building a Batak church), they wouldn’t recite prayers at our funerals. I insisted on not signing it, but most of my neighbors were cowed by the threat.
Rudi, 38, a moderate Muslim

At night, their singing disturbs the locals’ sleep
Murhali, Bekasi FPI leader

For more about FPI, the Islamic Defender Front, look up Wikipedia. Your humble author does not wish to go through Indonesian libel law by stating it out in print. Suffice it to say that Murhali’s claim is rather preposterous, given that Christians do late-night services at most twice a year (Christmas Eve and Easter Eve), whereas, as Indonesia Matters’ Ross pointed out, local mosques blare out calls to prayer before dawn each morning.

Read the rest, and weep. We are all God’s creations, but some of us clearly have not gotten the memo yet.

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