Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Critically orthodox

Contrasting Religion and the non-denominational progressive PC movement

This week at school we had a good inservice with one of the leaders of critical thinking in education. While she wasn't overly impressed with the small town charms of a religious community, after the presentation, and an exciting day guiding begginers down high water rivers I started thinking about the similarities and differences between traditional LDS theology and socially progressive guerilla religions . Specifically there was some hypocrisy in how critical thinkers are supposed to remove prejudices as they analyze other points of view from within the context and assumptions in which they are created. (I think the instructor thought since this was a religious town there was no way anyone was ever going to come close to any critical thinking skills - at best techniques would be applied haphazardly in non-significant ways) Obviously removing prejudices is functionally impossible - most are after all implicitly based. However limiting prejudices and minimizing assumptive conclusions certainly isn't impossible. If this is the case, why do few people who are not religious fail to analyze religion with this in mind - ie from a perspective of generous orthodoxy?

I think the main reason is many critically educated people have come to reject religion as a tumor - superficially innocuous, but fundamentally destructive. They see extreme conclusions and assume the system is rationalized for such ends. Because of this, they may also reject anything with a tinge of religion, especially when it is formalized. In effect, religion has, ironically enough, become a cardinal sin. Anything associated with it is heretical, and anything springing from a font of heresy need not be taken on its own ground. Instead the effort to analyze and confront such ideas may be seen as a waste of time. While individual ideas may sometimes be of worth, the extent to which they are corrupted means it is better to toss them out wholesale rather than waste time confronting them with little chance of success. In terms of cultural change, revolution is the solution, not change from within.

However this strikes me as avoiding the whole issue of religion. Certainly it is easier to start with a clean slate and then think critically, but this denies the power of the whole concept. I will admit that most standoffishness in this regard may just be due to the fact the two sides talk past each other, and socratic dialog is limited by perceptions of fundamentalism. In effect, the whole concept of critical thinking fails to engage religion because of the effort required in anything other than academic debates. In day to day situations it seems like traditional tools like sin, heresy, orthodoxy, and social pressure seem to be the most efficient in day to day situations. Of course they are labeled differently today, and due to rapid socially change haven't acquired the connotations and bagger of the former. However PC tools seem the same, although they appear less benign. Perhaps this is due to a polytheistic approach where deities are replaced by ideas.

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