Friday, November 04, 2005

Modern Religion

Over at my favorite blog, Belmont Club there is a really good post on True Believers. In it Paul Berman wonders why much of the left doesn't vilify radical Islam the way it vilifies Nazism and other tolitalitarian, or oppressive regimes. Wretchard, as usual, has a very insightful comment.

At Auschwitz the SS said, "Here there is no why." That grimly hilarious punchline was not exclusive to Auschwitz. Piers Brendon recalls in Dark Valley, his history of the 1930s, that the most common scrawl left by doomed Old Bolsheviks at Lubyanka prison were the words "What For?" But more poignant yet was the refusal of some Party members, exiled to Magadan, the worst camp of the Gulag, to smuggle news to their comrades of their fate. One said,  'at least now they still have hope in Communism. If I let them know the truth then they will have nothing'. Even in Magadan the Left's deepest need was to believe. Having abolished the God of their forefathers and finding themselves prostrate before the false god they fashioned for themselves, as between extinction and despair they chose extinction

One of the annoying hypocrisies as I see it, is a radical leftist's religious like attack of organized religion. While certainly not all of the consequences of organized religion have been benign, the thing that is interesting to me is not whether organized religion has on the whole had a positive or negative influence on society, but how religious tendencies seem to creep into collective ideologies.

So how do groups that tends to abhor organized religion, denounce war, tolitalitarianism, racism, bigotry etc. mimic organized religion?

1. Universalists - most organized religions are essentially universalist in nature. They believe the have access to special knowledge of correct, progressive behaviours. In much the same way the PC Left believes that what are now considered human rights are fundamentally good. Many believe rational individuals could not think otherwise. After all who could consider racism, equality of the sexes, etc as not being good and something that every human should seek after? In this way the PC Left are universalists. They believe there is a set cannon of correct morals that are universally applicable. Anyone who doesn't agree is repressed or repressive.

2. Faith - The humanistic PC Left seems to need an idealizing belief. To me the belief around which they organize is that there is an ideal solution to the world's problems. Education will elucidate this ideal, resulting in the unification necessary for any such utopia. More than this though progressive ideals are often valued for the spin off good that they foster. This seems similar to a Christian belief that through faith, good works become manifest.

3. Morality - Most idealizing organizations push a set morality, whether they admit it or not. For example, support for gender equality and sexual preference, is as much a moral stance as biblical injunctions of chastity. The method by which these morals are pushed also seem similar. Peer pressure is usually the strongest factor. Religions will use church courts to force the issue, the PC Left uses state courts.

Other parallels will take some time to figure out.


Clark Goble said...

Isn't ideally the big difference the reasons for the beliefs? Religion presupposes revelation, typically to some past figure, as the source for beliefs. Liberals often appeal to human reason as the source for beliefs. That seems a rather large difference.

chris g said...

That is similar take I am getting as I go through "In Gods we trust". The big difference is an appeal to the supernatural. However, I don't know if your dichotomy is as clear cut as it may appear.

Human reason may be used as justification, but in practice many followers don't use it. They tend to follow other people they can trust. Usually it is experts in a field . The depth to which this relationship is based on trust instead of personal knowledge is the depth of the analogy with faith.

Just think of the current cynicism towards scientific stufies. Many people assume scientific studies are unreliable, or more accurately, that they can say whatever they want them to say. These individuals find a reasonable framework with which they agree, and tend to ingore things that contradict it. They may not be as dogmatically tied to these beleifs as many traditional religionists are towards their convictions, but the parallel is there. Their beliefs are faith based, even if the ones they are trusting are basing their conclusions on science, not the supernatural.

When applied to an individual, the difference in knowledge's source isn't all that separate. Many people use faith. When one looks at the way the enitre community gathers its knowledge, then things do get separated.

I don't think this distinction is all that forced. It means in practice indivuals act in religious manners regardless of whether the kernels of that belief are scientific or supernatural.

chris g said...

The interview with Bushman up at M* had another point. Some versions of liberalism need an enemy to fight against.

" It is part of the liberal mind to require adequate enemies who wish to crush all the liberal virtues of free speech and individual choice. The religious fanatic has served that purpose for hundreds of years and still does." - Richard Bushman

I think this gets at another point. Religions need evil to exist in an analagous way. Often, religions need to be fight against something. Personally I think this is often the hallmark of weak people. It is always easier to destroy rather than build. Unification based on a common enemy is much easier than creating something for an undefined future purpose. However, this latter trait is what I believe true religion is about. It about preparing oneself for a future that can't be discerned. Thus attacks aren't nearly as effectivie as preparation. All they do is stall one out in the environment in which they already exist.

chris g said...

I think falsifiability is another important point. Religions tend to be based on non-falsifiable beliefs. While I tend to think that religion can be as pragmatic as any other scientific exercise (at least on an individual basis), it tends to take much more effort than similar everyday scientific enquiries.

Another point at belmont club is the fear humanitarianism has of a slippery slope. This seems to equate well with religious tendencies for uniformity. Unfortunately it appears that humanism probably is in it's infancy in this regard. It hasn't yet learned how to be overly accomodating of slippery slope compromises, at least in theory, perhaps not so in practice.

chris g said...

I think one other similiarity is the extent to which non-scientific ideas are given scientific weighting. Religion tends to try and make a logically consistent world from supernatural assumptions. I think modern humanism does the same. While base beliefs are arguably more communal in content, the extent to which non-scientific based are justified from reasonable foundational pillars seems strikingly similar.

From a scientific point of view, tradtional religion and modern humanism err when they extend concepts beyond what can unambiguosly be inferred. Thus both tend towards an idealistic paradigm.

Perhaps a better way of saying this is modern humanism accepts ambiguity in an analagous way to traditional religion - that is, not well at all.